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Manager Says Too Dangerous To Go Into Gorge Where 7 Died

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Auckland, Feb 17 NZPA - An outdoor pursuits centre field manager told an inquest today it was too dangerous for him to go into a gorge and rescue a group of Auckland students and their teacher, seven of whom died, in a canyoning tragedy.

Hastings coroner Christopher Devonport is holding an inquest in Auckland into the deaths of Elim Christian College students Natasha Bray, Portia McPhail, Tara Gregory, Tom Hsu, Anthony Mulder and Floyd Fernandes, and teacher Tony McClean in the Mangatepopo Gorge near Turangi while they took part in an outdoor adventure course on April 15, 2008.

Crown solicitor Ben Vanderkolk asked Kerry Charles Palmer, who was a field manager at the Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre (OPC), if he had a rescue plan to go up the gorge to look for the group himself.

Mr Palmer, who was also involved in the search and rescue operation that day, said it was too dangerous for him to go into the gorge to rescue the group, which was being led by an OPC instructor, Jodie Sullivan, as conditions had become too difficult to traverse.

The coroner told Mr Palmer that the families of the students and teacher had put their loved ones in the care of OPC that day. "You as field manager didn't know where Ms Sullivan was in the gorge, which shows a lack of importance in communication between the manager and the instructor.

"Ms Sullivan says she wasn't able to do the full gorge trip. She'd got to the halfway ledge but she'd been given no clear directions on what to do if the river rose quickly," Mr Devonport said to Mr Palmer.

Mr Palmer said the amount of rain that had fallen that morning wasn't sufficient to cause flooding in the gorge.

"When I spoke to Ms Sullivan at 11.30am it wasn't raining. If I had known it would be a significant weather event, our conversation would have been quite different," Mr Palmer said.

Earlier this week, Ms Sullivan told the court she underestimated how fast the river rose in the afternoon as a storm closed in.

Ms Sullivan told the court the students knew that jumping into the water was a risk.

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