Cerebral palsy skydiver fumes at Queenstown ban

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A traveller with cerebral palsy is furious at being banned from skydiving in Queenstown – despite having done it 17 times. 

John Birdsall, a passionate skydiver, just six weeks ago took the plunge with Franz Josef Skydive – but a week later Queens­town’s NZONE wouldn’t let him do it. 

Birdsall had no problems booking a jump with NZONE at its Shotover Street shop – but claims on arrival at the site, the boss took one look at him and said no. 

Having jumped in Queenstown four years ago, Birdsall can’t believe he’s not allowed to do it again. 

“It’s very frustrating. The boss didn’t come over to tell me personally but told the instructors to refuse me,” he claims. 

“Even though the instructors had no issues with it and knew I’d done it before, the boss wouldn’t listen and said it was because of a law change.” 

NZONE business development manager Derek Melnick says safety regulations have changed dramatically since Birdsall last jumped with the company four years ago. 

The thrill-seeker has jumped all over New Zealand – in Motueka near Nelson, Taupo, the Bay of Islands and Wanaka – and last time he visited the country, he did nine dives in four months. 

“I get such buzz from it. I love the free-fall,” he says.
 
Birdsall, 48, fumes: “If there was a technical reason for my not being allowed to skydive, I’d understand. But there isn’t. In all the times I’ve jumped I’ve never had a problem. 

“It’s almost like the boss doesn’t trust his instructors,” he says.
 
Melnick denies this: “The adventure tourism industry, particularly aviation, is under intensified scrutiny on safety.
 
We’re not prepared to open the organisation up to elements where there may be increased degree of risk.
 
“We have his best interests at heart,” Melnick adds.
 
Birdsall believes NZONE’s decision is partly down to money-saving because his severe condition means he takes longer to get ready for a dive, costing the company extra.
 
Melnick says money has nothing to do with it.
 
Although unaware Birdsall had skydived in more than five other NZ locations, Melnick says it makes no difference, and NZONE is not prepared to take the risk.
 
“We’d like to let everybody skydive but ultimately we are responsible. This is a case of, you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”
 
A Human Rights Commission spokesman says if Birdsall considers he’s been wrongfully withheld a service because of his disability, he’s entitled to make a complaint.
 
Whether or not Birdsall does this, he’s made his anger clear in a damning review on Trip­advisor. 

“Do not go to NZONE to skydive. They said they cannot take me skydiving because I was disabled. If you want to skydive please go elsewhere.” 

A spokesperson at Franz Josef Skydive says there’s no reason Birdsall shouldn’t be allowed to jump. 

“Our instructors are incredibly experienced, we’ve had paraplegic jumpers before so if someone wants to do it, why not?” she says.
 
“Nothing’s going to happen to him – not any more than it would to an able-bodied person.”