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Coroner Rules Guide's Lack Of Experience Contributed To Death

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Wellington, April 2 NZPA - "Insufficient training and/or experience" in a hunting guide unloading passengers from a helicopter in the Southern Alps in 2006, resulted in the death of one of the group, a coroner has found.

American hunter Clifford Wayne Senter, 57, was killed on May 22 2006, when he fell down a 184-metre cliff face near Wanaka after stepping out of the helicopter.

Mr Senter, his friend Nelson Rapanot and their wives were on a guided expedition with Leithen Valley Trophy Hunts in a helicopter flown by Harvey Hutton.

Queenstown coroner Alan Macalister said the group, along with the hunting guide Rachel Stewart, set off about 2pm, the Otago Daily Times reported.

"Rachel Stewart guided Mr Senter from the helicopter, placing him behind where she was standing.

"She then turned to assist Mr Rapanot. Tragedy struck. While she was assisting Mr Rapanot, Mr Senter was seen sliding from the landing site. He was beyond the reach of either of them and slipped and fell over 160m to his death."

The group flew out to raise the alarm and seek assistance.

An "inaccurate description" of the location and deteriorating weather prevented searchers reaching Mr Senter that evening, and his body was located about 11am the next day.

Evidence given during the inquest found both Mr Senter and Mr Rapanot were wearing boots which one expert witness called "totally inadequate" for the terrain.

Mr Macalister said the guide should have either declined to take the two men without the appropriate footwear, or ensured they were unloaded on sites where the footwear would have been safe.

"Rachel Stewart said that taking her eyes off Cliff Senter was where, to her mind, everything went wrong. That was only part of the problem," Mr Macalister said.

"Having listened carefully to (Ms) Stewart give evidence I noted...she substantially defended her decisions and actions. The evidence, however, is clear."

Mr Macalister listed several issues concerning Ms Stewart's lack of training and experience, including an insufficient awareness of the hazardous nature of the terrain , inadequately addressing the physical limitations of Mr Senter, who was heavily built and suffered from arthritis, and not calling for the helicopter to be moved forward to enable unloading on flat ground .

Mr Macalister said he was unable to make any finding into how Mr Senter came to slide from the landing site.

Following the inquest Mr Macalister made several recommendations surrounding the training of hunting guides.

He recommended that if the New Zealand Professional Hunting Guides Association had not already done so, they divide the Helicopter Safety Manual into two assessable modules (practical and theory) to be presented by qualified personnel at workshops and that guides attend refresher courses.

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