29 Apr 2015

Cave Creek families reflect

6:14 am on 29 April 2015

Those speaking at Cave Creek commemorations reflected on the changes to safety standards and procedures that have occurred in the 20 years since the tragedy which killed 14 people.

Cave Creek Memorial Garden

Flowers laid at memorial stone in Cave Creek Memorial Garden. Photo: RNZ / Patrick Phelps

The service at Tai Poutini Polytechnic in Greymouth yesterday marked two decades since a Department of Conservation viewing platform collapsed and plunged into a gorge at Cave Creek near Punakaiki on the West Coast.

Thirteen polytechnic students and one DOC worker were killed, while four students were also injured, one of whom now uses a wheelchair.

Virginia Pawsey, whose son Kit Pawsey died in the disaster, said significant changes had been made since then to ensure such a tragedy did not happen again, and that was his legacy.

"I feel that every time we go out into the bush, and see the structures, and tracks and things, and that's the legacy of our children, and that makes me feel proud, and satisfied, that there was one good outcome of Cave Creek," said Ms Pawsey.

A memorial at Cave Creek adorned with carefully chosen stones that people have brought from the creek bed.

A memorial at Cave Creek adorned with carefully chosen stones that people have brought from the creek bed. Photo: SUPPLIED / DOC

The viewing platform was built without a resource consent and there were no plans that were ever signed off by an engineer.

The plans that were drawn up were not adhered to.

The platform was put together by DOC workers, who were not qualified trades people or carpenters.

"There were serious issues with the Department's systems then, but now there are checks and balances in place, second to none in the world, and improvements are ongoing," DOCs director general Lou Sanson told the service.

"I've also recently put in place a visitor reference group, where outdoor groups can check me on how good our outdoor facilities are. I'm also intending to establish a system where we learn from accidents we've had on the Milford Track, very similar to what the NZTA does with road safety standards."

A memorial service for the victims of the  Cave Creek tragedy was held in Greymouth.

A memorial service for the victims of the Cave Creek tragedy was held in Greymouth. Photo: RNZ / Patrick Phelps

Jody Davis, a Tai Poutini student, died in the collapse. His father Rod Davis said although nobody had ever been held to account, and he harboured a lot of anger towards the Department for years, he had eventually moved on.

"The thing you're looking for is to blame, is for somebody to put their hand up and be accountable. I think I can speak for the families and say that's what we were looking for. And it just went from one, to another ...it just made it very difficult."

The commemorations were attended by hundreds of people who filled the polytechnic's atrium to pay respects.