9 Mar 2009

Death prompts safety council look at bridge swinging

12:50 pm on 9 March 2009

The Mountain Safety Council will investigate whether a safety standard is needed for bridge swinging after the death of a Massey University student on Saturday.

Catherine Peters, 18, of Christchurch, died after falling to the riverbed below the Ballance Bridge on the Woodville side of the Manawatu Gorge.

She was one of about 100 people taking part in bridge swinging.

Council spokesperson Paul Chaplow says there is no specified safety standard for the activity because bridge swinging has become a commercial activity only in recent times.

Crag Adventures, which runs the activity for the university's Alpine Club, says it always follows rigorous safety procedures.

Ms Peters, who moved to Palmerston North two weeks ago to study veterinary science, was taking part in an exercise that involved jumping from the Ballance Bridge on a swing rope.

A spokesperson for the adventure company says it has held the event for the past eight years and all participants are fully harnessed in specialist safety equipment.

Massey University staff have been counselling students, and police and the Labour Department are investigating the incident.

However, the Department of Labour notes that it is not responsible for safety codes and guidelines for adventure tourism.

No safety standards exist specifically for bridge swinging, but the department says it is not practicable for it to write safety rules for every potentially dangerous activity.

Police say about 80 people had completed the jump when the incident happened about 3pm. Ms Peters fell 22 metres to the stones below, and died in Palmerston North Hospital on Saturday night.

Police spokesperson Kim Perks says the bridge swing is a regular activity for the alpine club.