Jetboat death driver relives Queenstown river nightmare

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The jetboat driver involved in a fatality on the Shotover River two years ago is still haunted by the tragedy. 

Former Kawarau Jet driver Ian Morgan, recently found not guilty of operating a vessel in a manner which caused unnecessary danger or risk to others, says the ordeal has been “life-changing”. 

“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about it,” he tells Mountain Scene in his first interview since the horror accident. 

The sole charge, brought by Maritime New Zealand, followed when female Chinese tourist Yan Wang, 42, was killed after Morgan’s fully-laden boat flipped at the confluence of the Shotover and Kawarau Rivers on September 25, 2008. Six of the 22 passengers were also injured. 

Morgan, 37, was acquitted in an 11-1 majority by a jury of seven women and five men on July 9 at the end of a five-day district court trial held in Dunedin. 

The verdict is a “huge relief”, he says. 

“Not a sense of celebration as a person has lost her life, but there was a feeling for me of ‘at last it is over’. 

“The whole thing has been a very difficult 22 months. 

“I never believed this would happen. I hope it doesn’t happen to anyone else because it’s extremely difficult to deal with.” 

He credits friends, supporters and his lawyers Garth Gallaway and Jennifer Borrett for helping him get through the ordeal. 

“You definitely need support, it’s too hard to do this alone. 

“I want to thank a number of close friends who I have spoken to or phoned when I needed to talk things through,” Morgan says. 

“Also everyone at K Jet – they have been excellent. From their kindness and support after the crash right up to the last days in court.” 

Morgan, originally from Somerset, England, left the resort soon after the accident and presently works in Sydney as an operations manager for Queenstown-based tourism photography company Magic Memories. 

He drove jetboats for three weeks after the crash but hasn’t continued since. 

“It was emotionally tough.” 

The New Zealand citizen will remain in Sydney for the time being and hasn’t made plans for the future, or thought about returning to live in Queenstown. 

“Not until this court case was out of the way. 

“If I got a fine or was sent to jail it changes everything. Only now I can actually look forward.” 

The court heard that Morgan – an experienced driver with an impeccable record – turned right on to the Kawarau River, following the same route he’d taken on two previous trips that day. 

It was a route he’d taken “thousands of times” before and according to Morgan’s statement after the accident, he saw no typical signs of a sandbar before hitting it. 

Expert witnesses agreed: 

> Levels on the swollen and murky Shotover were dropping, which can lead to “inherent risks”. 

>  The bar was in an area of flat water, making it hard to determine depth. 

>  Water levels may have been affected by the boat wake of Kawarau Jet driver Brett Fitzgerald, who’d crossed the confluence minutes before. 

> The boat “glanced” the bar and wasn’t damaged – consistent with Morgan not speeding.
The Crown argued the undisputed risks associated with the Shotover River were obvious and a reasonable and prudent driver with considerable experience should be able to read the river. 

Defence argued several contributing factors caused the boat to flip but none related to Morgan, or him being negligent.

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