Coronet ski casualty adds to death toll on southern slopes

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The horror winter season continues on southern slopes with an accident in Queenstown in which an elderly Japanese man died. 

The 80-year-old advanced skier died from head injuries at Dunedin Hospital last night after falling during race training at Coronet Peak on Tuesday. 

The incident comes less than a week after a fatality at Mt Hutt – the fourth at the Canterbury ski area this season. 

The Department of Labour confirms “preliminary inquiries” are being made into this week’s fatality. 

The man, from Akita, was part of a Sports Unity tour group – consisting of mostly young Japanese athletes – which visits Coronet Peak annually for ski racing, NZSki boss James Coddington says. 

Skiing in Rocky Gully, the mountain’s racing area, the man – who was wearing a helmet – caught a gate and fell. 

“It was just a normal fall, it wasn’t a hard fall, he didn’t lose skis … and his helmet wasn’t damaged,” Coddington says. 

“I’m not a doctor but I would certainly come to the conclusion that age 
would have an impact on what has happened.” 

Eyewitnesses Coddington spoke to said the man got up from his fall and skied to the base of the Rocky Gully T-bar, where he was initially able to talk to medical staff via a translator before becoming unconscious. 

He was then rushed to the base building’s ski patrol rooms and flown to Lakes District Hospital by a Lakes District Air Rescue Trust helicopter. The Otago Rescue Helicopter, with an intensive care specialist on board, met him at LDH and transferred him to Dunedin Hospital. 

His son flew into Dunedin from Japan yesterday afternoon. 

Coddington says this winter’s been a “challenging season” for NZSki, which is reeling from four separate deaths at Mt Hutt. The skifield also had an avalanche on Tuesday, but no one was injured. 

“It’s very unusual to have even one death in a season,” he adds. 

“But if you look at every incident there’ve been different circumstances, different parts of the mountain, different ability levels, different conditions, which makes it even more challenging for all to deal with – families who are involved and loved ones who have lost, through to staff members first on the scene and staff members who attend funerals …” Coddington says. 

“It’s a tragic set of circumstances and unfortunately it’s happened in one season.” 

The number of incidents overall at each mountain is “ironically” below average for general injuries and collisions, Coddington says. 

Two months ago Queenstown woman Janine Learmonth injured her neck while becoming trapped on Coronet’s new $5 million Meadows Express chairlift with her family. 

She tells Mountain Scene this week a specialist recently told her she’s fractured a bone in her neck and has nerve damage. She’s back at work but relies on morphine tablets. 

The Department of Labour is still investigating this incident. 

At the time, Coddington told Mountain Scene that soon after Learmonth’s injury they adjusted the tension on the mechanical bar so it releases if someone gets stuck while it drops down.

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