9 Jun 2010

Weeping witness describes jump that went wrong

8:00 pm on 9 June 2010

A tearful witness has described in court the death of a young woman in a bridge-swinging jump that went wrong.

At the High Court in Palmerston North, Alastair McWhannell has pleaded not guilty to manslaughter over the death of Catherine Peters at Ballance Bridge near Woodville last year.

The Crown has accused the Crag Adventures director, 47, of causing her death by failing to ensure that the swing rope was set to the required length, and that the dead end was tied off and secure on the rig.

A 19-year-old student on work experience, Diana Tippett, was on the bridge assisting Mr McWhannell with jumps, along with other staff.

She told the court that she saw and heard Ms Peters swinging under the bridge, a swishing sound of rope being pulled through the rigging, and the thud of her hitting the ground.

She says she cannot recall if she saw the dead end of the rope tied off and secured on the rig by Mr McWhannell before the jump.

Accused of being distracted

The Crown accuses Mr McWhannell of being distracted by another woman who had brought him coffee before the fatal jump and claims that, following the accident, he told people he might have stuffed up.

Fionn Clayton, who was helping for the first time that day, told the court that Mr McWhannell's safety procedures were almost infallible but that there was the possibility of human error.

And Ms Tippett says he showed and explained how knots should be tied - including how a rope should be tied off to the bridge and made secure during a jump.