18 Aug 2009

Couple didn't know all river boarding risks, court told

10:06 pm on 18 August 2009

The partner of a British tourist who drowned while on a river boarding trip near Queenstown says they might not have gone if they had known more about the risks.

Mad Dog River Boarding and its director Brad McLeod are facing three charges under the Health and Safety in Employment Act in relation to the death of Emily Jordan on 29 April 2008.

Maritime New Zealand is prosecuting the Central Otago company, with each of the charges carrying a potential $250,000 fine.

Miss Jordan, 21, and her boyfriend Jonathon Armour decided to river board, a white-water activity using a modified wake board, while on holiday in the South Island.

The court was told she entered a rapid and became entangled and trapped against a rock in the Kawarau River with her head below the surface. She was under water for 20 minutes.

The section of river where the death occurred is characterised by water boils, swells and waves within canyon, and is rated a grade 3 rapid.

On Tuesday, the Queenstown District Court heard evidence from Mr Armour via video link from London.

Mr Amour told of the anguish he felt after realising that Miss Jordan was trapped beneath a rock in the river.

During cross-examination, Mr Armour said he signed a waiver form provided by Mad Dog River Boarding and was told that the trip was demanding.

However, he said there was nothing to suggest the possibility of dying during the trip, or that if anyone was trapped by rocks their rescue could be difficult.

Mr Armour said if he or Miss Jordan had been told this, they might never have taken the trip that day.

Guides 'joked' about safety issues

Tourist Ann Nichols took the same trip as Miss Jordan and told the court she believed the river was too dangerous for inexperienced swimmers.

Ms Nichols gave evidence via a video link from New York on Tuesday, saying the three guides on the trip joked about serious safety issues.

She says they did not adequately explain how dangerous the river could be and she panicked after entering the first rapid when she realised how overwhelming it was.

Ms Nichols was swept into the same rapid alongside Miss Jordan, and if she had known what the river was like, she never would have taken the trip.

Employee says nothing could be done

Guide Nicholas Kendrick told the court on Tuesday there was nothing that could be done to save Miss Jordan.

Mr Kendrick, operations manager for Mad Dog River Boarding, was in charge on the water on the day she died and said three guides were unable to free her.

He said the company did not carry ropes because it considered them a tangle hazard in water.

But the court was told that, after 20 minutes of being submerged, Miss Jordan was pulled free within minutes using ropes provided by another company.

On Monday, prosecutor Brent Stanaway said Mad Dog River Boarding failed to communicate to its clients the dangers of being trapped by rocks and how to escape from them quickly.