Death boat driver charged

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Water cops file first case against a local jetboat skipper.

In an unprecedented prose­cution, a former Queenstown jetboat driver will stand trial for a fatal accident six months ago.

Maritime New Zealand has charged Kawarau Jet driver Ian Morgan with operating a jetboat “in a manner which caused unnecessary danger to other persons” – the offence carries a maximum one year in jail or a $10,000 fine.

It’s believed to be MNZ’s first-ever prosecution of a local jetboat driver.

Chinese visitor Yan Wang, 42, died after a laden Kawarau Jet craft driven by Morgan hit a submerged Shotover Delta sandbar and flipped – Wang’s body was found inside the upturned hull 90 minutes later.

Several other passengers were hospitalised.

A hearing date has yet to be set.

Kawarau Jet co-owner Andy Brinsley says his company will “absolutely” defend Morgan – though he’s unsure if his defence costs will be paid.

“He was a very professional, highly trained and cautious, conscientious driver, and a series of circumstances – not taking away from the tragedy itself – unfolded.

“We will be doing everything we can to support him through this charge.”

Brinsley confirms Morgan res­­igned soon after the tragedy – he now works in Australia for Queenstown-based Magic Mem­ories.

“He had a great deal of support from the whole team here.

“He drove a trip again with the whole crew two days later, down to the accident site.

“Then he drove four or five trips the following week.

“But he also had some other things that were happening personally.”

A “whole combination” of things, including the accident, had led to Morgan’s resignation – he’d intended finishing at the end of this summer anyway, Brinsley says.

Brinsley denies his driver stuffed up.

“That route had been travelled for over 40 years – no one had identified it as a hazard.

“Sandbars form and move around and river levels change – it was an accident.”

Brinsley says Morgan had solely driven that route since joining Twin Rivers Jet, which Kawarau Jet later took over, six or seven years ago – it’s understood he’d done about 6000 hours.

Brinsley can’t comment on the charge as he’s yet to see Maritime NZ’s evidence or its accident report.

Mountain Scene earlier reported that within 48 hours of the accident, Kawarau Jet changed three operating procedures on Maritime NZ’s recommendation – it now takes a left turn downstream when entering the Kawarau from the Shotover before heading back upriver.

In addition, safety cards are now completely symbol-based to help foreign visitors, and drivers do back-up lifejacket checks as well.

Maritime NZ is also prosecuting two parties involved in Queenstown’s other river-based commercial fatality last year – a riverboarding accident, also on the Kawarau.