Update – Mad Dog suspends trips

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Queenstown’s Mad Dog River Boarding has voluntarily shut down operations until its safety procedures are reviewed by Maritime New Zealand.

Mountain Scene yesterday revealed the killer Queenstown company began taking commercial trips this week – despite a MNZ safety audit not being carried out till next Friday (see story below).

Mad Dog was last month convicted and ordered to pay $146,000 in fines and reparation for the death of British tourist Emily Jordan after she drowned in the Kawarau River in April last year.

Emily’s death triggered a Government-led shakeup of the adventure tourism industry’s safety standards – announced this week.

In a statement this afternoon, Mad Dog boss says he “respects people’s concerns” about operating before the MNZ audit.

“We take our responsibilities as an adventure tourism operator incredibly seriously.

“I’m doing everything in my power to cooperate with the authorities and industry to make sure we’ve reviewed, audited and implemented any changes to our operations,” he says.

McLeod says he’s also “proactively seeking” an external audit by the Register of Outdoor Safety Auditors and an independent peer review by the rafting industry.

Business as usual (September 24)

The killer Queenstown company which triggered Prime Minister John Key’s adventure-tourism shakeup on Monday has resumed river boarding – without a Maritime New Zealand safety audit.

And MNZ can do nothing about it.

Brad “Mad Dog” McLeod tells Mountain Scene he’s resumed summer operations with paying punters on the Kawarau River.

But Mad Dog River Boarding won’t be audited by MNZ until tomorrow week – with McLeod unsure whether he’ll pass the water watchdog’s safety test.

“Either I will pass it or I will fail it.”

Mad Dog and McLeod were prosecuted by MNZ last month over the April 2008 drowning of English backpacker Emily Jordan.

In a plea bargain, charges against McLeod were dropped but the Mad Dog company was ordered to pay $146,000 in fines and reparation.

A letter from Emily’s father Chris Jordan to the PM triggered the adventure-tourism safety review – Key called Jordan’s letter “heart-felt”.

Elated at Key’s announcement on Monday, Jordan was “shocked” at Mountain Scene’s Mad Dog revelations when phoned in England yesterday morning.

“Clearly [McLeod] should not be doing that and he knows he shouldn’t … It flies in the face of everything that’s gone on – it’s a complete disregard for human life.

“There’s something fundamentally wrong [with NZ law],” Jordan says.

“How come he’s still got a licence to operate? He’s flying in the face of what [MNZ] is trying to do.”

Jordan thanked Mountain Scene, saying he’d phone MNZ straight away – and he has, the Wellington watchdog confirms.

MNZ also confirms it will audit Mad Dog and another river boarding company on October 2 – and yes, MNZ’s “aware Mad Dog has begun operations” ahead of the audit, spokesperson Ross Henderson says.

Next week will also see “a week-long programme of river rescue training involving [Mad Dog] and other whitewater operators”.

But no, MNZ hasn’t audited Mad Dog since the court case, Henderson admits – although “the company has operated without incident [since Emily’s death] in line with conditions imposed by MNZ at the time”.

Even if MNZ wanted to, you have no legal power to prevent McLeod taking punters ahead of your audit, right? “That’s correct,” Henderson admits.

McLeod also admits financial pressure from his company’s $146,000 in penalties.

“Most definitely – I have a very understanding bank manager.”

Can Mad Dog survive? “We’ll find out. I can’t answer that question.”

Asked whether he’s paid the money, McLeod will only say: “I have an arrangement with the Justice Department.”

“Part of the plea bargain was that I could not close up and declare myself bankrupt and default on the payments,” McLeod says.

Told of McLeod’s financial admissions, MNZ’s Henderson says: “It is a concern and that’s why we’ll be doing the audit, monitoring him…

“He’s very well aware of what he needs to do, very well aware we’ve got our eye on him.”

McLeod hopes for a good summer and he’ll be hands-on with 15 staff.

He won’t discuss safety improvements following the Jordan tragedy.

Queenstown adventure-tourism safety consultant Stefan Crawford says of Mad Dog: “They’ve changed the way they do things and I actually applaud [McLeod]…he’s become a lot more aware of his responsibilities.”

 -Frank Marvin