Riverboarding Death By Misadventure. Tell Clients The Truth About The Risks. Staff Panicked – Updated

Emily and her partner Jonathan Armour

The highly critical jury at the Coronial inquest into the death of British tourist Emily Jordan has returned a verdict of Death by Misadventure.

Emily drowned whilst participating in a commercially organised river boarding excursion with Mad Dog River Boarding ( now named The River Boarding Company) on the Kawarau River in New Zealand, 2008. Read yesterday’s blog  Emily Jordan Inquest Opens In UK  for the circumstances surrounding her death and the “third world” safety conditions that prevail in sectors of New Zealand’s adventure tourism industry.

The BBC reported on the hearing, saying

The jury cited factors including lack of equipment and unsuitable life jackets as contributing to her death near Queenstown, South Island in 2008.

When Emily became trapped under a rock there was no rescue equipment to pull her out and it took 20 minutes to release her.

The foreman of the nine person jury echoed the words of a NZ coroner  at the inquest of Tom Donaldson, another British tourist, who was killed whilst sandboarding at the Omapere/Opononi dunes in New Zealand, i.e. companies need to tell their clients the truth about the risks they are facing.
The jury also criticised the complete lack of safety regulation in regards to riverboarding in New Zealand, a lack of staff training and the absence of vital safety and lifesaving equipment:

“On April, 29, 2008, on the Kawarau River, Emily Jordan was participating in a river boarding excursion, when she became entrapped beneath the water, against a rock, which resulted in her drowning.

“The following factors, we feel, contributed to Emily’s death. Firstly information and instruction were not given to clients in a way that clearly represented the true risks of danger.

“Secondly, the training received by the guides was inadequate for emergency rescue and entrapment and not specific to this particular activity of river boarding. It was not regulated by an external body.

“Thirdly, lack of essential lifesaving equipment to hand – such as a whistle, rope and knife – was a major factor in delaying the speed of rescue. Also the one size fits all life jacket was clearly unsuitable for river boarding in respect of buoyancy and lack of safety features, such as crotch strap, D-ring and whistle attachment.

“Furthermore, a rescue craft was not available. We believe a combination of all these factors and events contributed to the death of Emily Jordan.” source

The Coroner, Robin Balmain, summed up by saying

“he would not be making recommendations to authorities regarding Miss Jordan’s death. He said: “It does not seem to me to be right to interfere in the affairs of another sovereign country. New Zealand has its own laws, its own social and sporting culture and it seems to me that it is simply not right to interfere with that.”

He added: “However, the second reason is perhaps more important and that is that I have heard some detailed evidence of the enquiry that has been mounted in New Zealand into this industry.

“The catalyst for the enquiry was Emily’s death and the determined efforts made by her father, who has been tireless throughout this case to see that lessons can be learned where possible and appropriate action taken to lessen the risks to those who participate in these sports.”

Another report said Mad Dog’s staff had panicked when Emily got into difficulties. Another indication of a lack of training

Black Country coroner Robin Balmain criticised Mad Dog Riverboarding, which ran the activity, saying: “The overall impression one gains on listening to the evidence is that the guides panicked, they did not know what to do and they did not have the equipment with which to do it.”

Regulations were eventually introduced following Emily’s death, but the government shied away from any requirement to properly and fully inform participants of the dangers they are exposed to when taking part in some ‘extreme’ activities in New Zealand. It will be interesting to see if  ‘Prior Disclosure’ or ‘Informed Consent’ amendments will now be made to the present legislation before it begins to take effect in October of this year.
Mad Dog River Boarding/ The River Boarding Company’s website only has this brief statement about safety

“River boarding is an adventure. As with all white water activities there is an inherent risk of drowning. All guides are trained to the highest possible standards to help ensure your trip is as safe and enjoyable as possible.”

Compare that to the current Maritime New Zealand guidelines. Those guidelines say that this statement  (or words to a similar effect) should be given to each participant

“White-water boarding is an adventure activity with a degree of risk. Participants should be aware that they will be controlling their own white-water board and the commercial white-water-boarding operator cannot guarantee your safety. In any white-water activity, there is an inherent risk of drowning.”

Which statement do you think properly represents the true risks of danger?

20 May Update:
In the days following the trial

Mrs Jordan said: “We were obviously pleased that the company has been found guilty. It was what we would expect from all we’ve heard from the court case last week. I don’t think there was any other conclusion to this really.

“It just seems incredible that there are no corporate manslaughter charges in New Zealand, which is part of the reason why these activities go on – because these companies, especially some of them, know that they can get away with no safety regulations, no training, no safety equipment.”

Miss Jordan’s father, Chris, who has sat through the court hearings, added that it was “obviously good news” that the company had pleaded guilty.

He told Radio New Zealand he always hoped to see a conviction and “hopefully see some changes taking place with regard to the way river boarding in particular was run – and to some other extreme sports in general.

“To just reduce the horrendous deaths that occur in some of these extreme sports would be my primary aim, my primary reason for coming over (from Britain) this week.”

Mr Jordan said it had been hard to listen to some of the details about how his daughter died, especially because of “the preventable nature of some of the things that happened”.

He added: “I think that’s what’s really come home to me, how preventable this death was.” source

Our sincere condolences are again extended to the family and friends of Emily Jordan, especially to her father who has worked tirelessly in the hope of preventing other families going through what his had experienced. Unfortunately since Emily’s passing other young people have died in New Zealand and there ‘s also been a number of serious injuries (see below for details and links)
He now plans to write a book and we wish him every success with that and with raising awareness about this issue.
Please visit the The Emily Jordan Foundation which was set up in her memory and give it your support


You may also be interested in these recent Adventure Tourism blogs

Tom Donaldson Inquest – Coroners Says ‘Warn Tourists’ (Nov 2010)

Tourists Seriously Injured In Bay Of Islands Boat Incidents (April 2011)

Alistair McWhannell Guilty Of Manslaughter In Swing Bridge Death (June 2010)

Fox Glacier Plane Crash, Nine Dead Including Four Tourists (Sept 2010)

Tourists Injured in Queenstown Jet Boat Crash, Another Died Swimming With Dolphins (Nov 2010)

Thrillseekers Adventure Ltd Fined For Bungy Fall (May 2011)

Australian Tourist Seriously Injured By Dophin Boat (Dec 2010)

Wellington Reverse Bungy Closed Amid Safety Fears (Dec 2010)

Tourists seriously injured in collision between Outward Bound cutter and a Dolphin Watch Ecotours (Feb 2011)


Our NZ adventure tourism facts and stats page.

6 thoughts on “Riverboarding Death By Misadventure. Tell Clients The Truth About The Risks. Staff Panicked – Updated

  1. E2NZ, Quite the contrary. New Zealand is leading the way with these robust guidelines developed by…

    • Harry.
      The facts are as follows

      The jury decided that Emily Jordan died due to a combination of events
      * the safety briefing she was given was inadequate
      * the guides’ safety training was inadequate
      * river boarding was not regulated by an external body
      * there was a lack of essential life saving equipment
      * no rescue craft
      Had those events been different she may still be alive today.

      Owner Brad McLeod was prosecuted and pleaded guilty.

      The New Zealand Herald later published Chris Jordan’s response to Brad McLeod’s statement that he wished he’d not pleaded guilty at the trial, in it Chris Jordan said

      If Brad McLeod really said that accepting the charges was his “single biggest regret” then words fail me. One would have thought, and hoped, that being responsible for the death of our daughter would have been a bigger regret for him?

      He went on to say that Brad McLeod’s statement contained a number of factual inaccuracies, coincidentally picking up on many of the points you ‘Harry’ also took issue with.

      We strongly advise our readers to take a look at Chris Jordan’s statement which may be found here

      It is deeply disturbing that nothing seems to have changed in the River Boarding industry within New Zealand since Emily died.

  2. Harry, the Jury’s comments support Maritime NZ’s current guidance. Are you going to take the official guidance “with a pinch of salt” too?

    Safety Guidelines Commercial white-waterboarding operations Revised April 2011

    22. Equipment carried by guides on commercial white-water-boarding trips
    a) A commercial white-water-boarding operator should ensure the following equipment is carried on the river by all guides for every commercial white-water-boarding trip:
    i) a knife
    ii) a whistle
    iii) a length of webbing
    iv) a rescue rope of a type and length to be effective on the river boarded on
    v) two carabiners
    vi) two prussic cords.

    23. Participant personal flotation devices

    a) A commercial white-water-boarding operator should provide every participant with a personal flotation device (PFD).

    b) The PFD should have a minimum buoyancy rating of 71 newtons5. The 71 newton PFD should always be used with a wetsuit that has long sleeves and full-length legs to provide additional buoyancy for the torso.

    Additional buoyancy provided by wetsuits is not required if participants are using a 100 newton PFD, but the use of a long-legged wetsuit is still
    recommended to protect participants’ legs from any impacts.

    c) To allow a phase-in period, all operators must ensure that all white-water-boarding PFDs meet the 71 newton buoyancy rating by 1st April 2013. Before this date, any PFDs that are below 71 newton should have a minimum buoyancy of 50 newtons and be used with a minimum of 5 mm full length wetsuit.

    d) The PFD should have adjustable shoulder straps and a minimum of three securing straps with side-tensioning adjustment buckles. One securing strap should be positioned at the bottom of the PFD below the foam inserts, to prevent the PFD riding up. Bottom securing may be a tension or crotch strap if it is difficult to fit the participant into the PFD properly.

    e) There should be no buoyancy on the sides of the PFD, to enable it to be firmly fastened.

    f) Specialist river-boarding PFDs with reduced abdominal foam inserts should be clearly labelled as being only for river-boarding applications.

    g) The PFD should have the ability to be securely clipped by a carabiner during emergency situations. This attachment point may be provided by the shoulder strap. In any arrangement other than the shoulder strap, the attachment point should be part of a full integrated harness.

    h) The PFD should be periodically checked to ensure it is fit for purpose and has maintained its buoyancy and overall sound condition.

    4 All white-water boards used by guides should be fitted with an attachment point to enable the white-water board to be lowered or supported at an entrapment site. Guides should have a releasable belt and buckle on their personal flotation device, or another arrangement to allow them to perform lowered or supported rescues…

    …Where safe river practices require specific procedures or certain equipment to be provided or carried, this information is to be included with the information required by Schedule A, clause 19, and where necessary should specify:

    the provision of safety craft
    ways of dealing with specific hazards
    inspection of sections of the river during a white-water-boarding trip
    responsibilities of any person driving a support motor vehicle
    procedures for communicating with other river users, including commercial jet-boat and rafting operations.

    The guidance also has sections on training, auditing, safety briefings and the selection of appropriate clients.

    Click to access White-water-boarding-safety-guidelines-2011.pdf

  3. The decision about the misadventure or accident was very sound. There was evidence from different perspectives about what actually happened. There was just no one knowledgeable to make an informed decision or give sound advice on the current best practises for riverboarding. A jet ski or boat would have ben a mjor hazard in amongst riverboarders in fast flowing rapids. Many life jackets used for other watersports are not suitable for riverboarding. New Zealand riverboarding companies use life jackets specially designed for riverboarding, and they are the best available. Other life jakets would have came off in that same situation.

  4. I do not believe that the jury in the U.K riverboarding inquest were able to make informed decisions as there were no expert witnesses present. Without credible evidence and expert guidance the contributing factors suggested by the jury should be taken with a pinch of salt.

    • The British inquest was provided with ample evidence to make a judgment.

      An eye witness to the event (Jonathan Armour) gave evidence and there were signed witness statements from people involved in the recovery operation

      The jury was told that Emily was wearing a one size fits all life jacket, and that it came off over her head when rescuers tried to pull her free.

      There was no emergency whistle.

      There was no rescue boat or jet ski.

      The jury watched the same video that Emily was shown before she got in the river.

      Evidence from the investigation into the Mad Dog prosecution trial was presented.

      Under the circumstance the jury reached a very sound decision and their statements about the contributing factors must be taken seriously if further fatalities are to be avoided.

      If New Zealand’s attitude is to take the jury’s finding with a “pinch of salt” then we recommend that people take their business to countries that are better equipped to look after them.

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