Safety first


Adventure king Van Asch supports calls for unity among operators after six deaths in 10 months.

Queenstown’s king of adventure tourism says it’s time for operators to come together and make all thrill-seeking activities safer for visitors.

AJ Hackett Bungy owner and pioneer Henry van Asch supports calls for an industry-wide body to provide a “cohesive” approach to safety amongst all tourism operators in the resort.

The death of a Skytrek hang-glider pilot and his passenger near the Remarkables on Tuesday brings Queens­­­town’s adven­ture tourism death toll to four in the last 10 months, with two also killed jetboating.

Six others have also been seriously injured during that time.

Queenstown mayor Clive Geddes calls the string of fatalities and injuries in the world’s adventure capital “an absolute shocker”.

Van Asch says there’s always an element of risk involved in thrill-seeking activities which is widely accepted, but fatalities shouldn’t happen.

“That’s one of the para­doxes of adventure tourism – [tourists] want to think it’s dangerous but they don’t actually want it to be dangerous. It’s a bit of a fine line and unfortunately in the last little while that’s been crossed over a bit.

“You can say it’s a numbers game but I don’t think that’s acceptable – we should be trying to make things as safe as we can. But they’re never going to be absolutely safe.”

Van Asch’s company – which has never had a fatality in 20 years of operating – offers safety advice to others who request it.

“Perhaps it’s a time where the industry needs to get together to look at the processes and get a bit more commonality of systems and so on across the board. It’s not pleasant for any of us to see families going through this level of anguish.”

He warns against too much “over-regulation”, however – “you can be reactionary but it’s much better for us to be proactive as an industry and to work out how to preclude this from occurring down the track”.

Destination Queenstown boss Stephen Pahl supports the idea of over-arching industry standards – if it’s viable.

“If there were to be a standards organisation or additional standards pro­ced­­­ure that’s not going to be a burden to the industry with additional cost then I would certainly welcome it,” he says.

“The more mechanisms and the more rigour that we can demonstrate into market that we are a safe destination and that we do have and maintain high standards in adventure tourism operations, that’s a very good thing.”

Tim Cossar, boss of tourism operator advocacy group Tourism Industry Association New Zealand, says he’ll wait to see if there are any “gaping issues” with safety that emerge from reports into the deaths.

“Sure, we’ve had some accidents and no one wants those and we as an industry must be insuring ourselves against that – because that’s our reputation as a country and as a destination, and what we do is consistently on the line.”

But the idea of an umbrella organisation doesn’t wash with mayor Geddes.

“I’m not in favour of yet another body because if the existing bodies that have responsibility for safety in these cases are working then the risk of these types of accidents is minimised.”

Queenstown Lakes Dis­­­­trict Council and its regulatory agent Lakes En­­­­­vir­­­­on­mental already mon­­­­itor safety through regular checks of operators’ consents, he adds.

“I think we’ve got the structures there. But it’s a real heads-up for all of the operators whether they’re private or commercial that safety has to be of paramount importance and safe operating procedures have to be adhered to.”


Tragic toll: Six deaths and six serious injuries in 10 months

Tues, Mar 10
34-year-old Waipu volunteer fire fighter Andrew Michael Scotland and his Skytrek tandem hang-gliding pilot, Argen­tinean Gerado Bean, 27, plunge to their deaths in Boyd’s Paddock near the Remarkables after launching from a site known as The Knoll. The cause of the accident is not yet known.



Feb 20
Three people are injured when a Dart River Jet Safaris boat containing 18 passengers flipped on the Dart River. A 61-year-old Scottish tourist receives a broken collar bone and a 61-year-old English passenger suffers whiplash and bruising to the ribs. A third passenger bruises a knee. Investigations continue.




Feb 2
A 74-year-old British man is dragged 20 metres down Bob’s Peak by a G Force paraglider. The man was flown to Dunedin Hospital with serious head injuries after tripping and falling on rocks while the paraglider tried to launch. Police are investigating.





Jan 5
Locals Brett Singleton, 51, and Anton Woitasek, 34, die after the private jetboat they were in collided with a jetski on the Kawarau River. Their bodies were found the next day – without lifejackets. Invercargill jetskiers Mark Clay, 21, and Emma Eckhold, 19, were choppered to Dunedin Hospital. Eckhold remains in the hospital’s rehabilitation unit. Maritime NZ is investigating.




Sep 24, 2008
Chinese tourist Yan Wang, 42, dies after a Kawarau Jet boat flipped on the river. The driver and 21 other passengers escape serious injury but Yang’s body was discovered 90 minutes later in the up-turned hull. Investigations continue.




Apr 29, 2008
English tourist Emily Jordan, 21, dies after being trapped by a rock while on a Mad Dog River Boarding trip on the Kawarau River. Maritime NZ subsequently introduced draft safety guidelines for the industry, while Mad Dog owner Brad McLeod and his company face charges under the Health and Safety in Employment Act.