23 Dec 2009

Company guilty of rafting death

8:59 pm on 23 December 2009

A rafting company has been found guilty over the death of a trainee guide who drowned when a raft he was steering capsized on the Rangitikei River.

Norwegian Tor Prestmo, who was 24, died in October 2007 when two rafts collided in powerful rapids and he was trapped underwater.

In a decision was released by the Taihape District Court on Wednesday, the company was found to have neglected standard procedures including safety briefings and hazard identification.

Mr Prestmo was on a training trip with another guide and five paying passengers as they followed another raft.

He was attempting to steer a safe course through a powerful grade five rapid when the two rafts collided and flipped.

Three other guides and 10 passengers were rescued but Mr Prestmo's body was not found until the following day, one metre underwater and wedged behind a rock.

Maritime New Zealand laid 11 charges against River Valley Ventures Ltd, its director Brian Leadson Megaw and the head guide Koryn John Gould under the Health and Safety in Employment Act.

In his written decision, Judge Gregory Ross convicted the company on three charges of failing to ensure the safety of its employees.

He found it neglected to follow its own operating procedures, including the use of a safety kayaker or land-based cover.

Judge Ross said the company should have identified all physical and geographical hazards, which were marked on maps, named and known about.

Mr Megaw and Mr Gould were also found guilty, but the judge says he will not enter convictions against them until he hears from their lawyer at sentencing.

River Valley Ventures could not be reached for comment.

A spokesperson for the New Zealand Rafting Association, Grant South, who was also an expert witness for the defence, says he is disappointed with the decision.

"Sometimes things do happen ... beyond our control so if a trip leader's going to get charged every time there's an incident or accident I'm not sure that too many people would want to work in the industry."