Manslaughter charge for quad bike tour owner

AMY MAAS
Last updated 05:00 26/05/2013

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The safety of New Zealand's adventure tourism industry is in the spotlight again, with revelations a quad bike operator has been charged with manslaughter after the death of an Australian tourist.

Melbourne woman Chelsea Callaghan was killed on a Riverlands Adventures quad bike tour last October. The 38-year-old suffered fatal head injuries in the Onewhero, north Waikato, accident, and her life support was turned off a day later.

The owner of Riverland Adventures, Percy Kukutai, appeared in the Pukekohe District Court last month, charged with her manslaughter.

Callaghan is one of at least 20 tourists who have died in New Zealand while taking part in adventure tourism activities in the past five years.

Earlier this month, grieving families of four tourists killed in a skydiving plane crash at Fox Glacier wrote to Prime Minister John Key, saying they wanted "decisive and unequivocal action" to make New Zealand a safe place to visit.

Nine people died in the Fox Glacier accident, when a Skydive New Zealand plane crashed soon after takeoff in September 2010.

"Our aim in taking issue is to stop more people, including New Zealanders, being seriously injured or, worse still, dying, as a result of negligence and having absolutely no recourse," their letter said.

"We believe it is essential that your Government takes very decisive and unequivocal action to reassure the world that New Zealand is a very safe place to visit . . . This is necessary to restore New Zealand's pre-eminent position as a destination for adventure sport tourism for young people."

Chelsea Callaghan's family also want tighter controls around the adventure tourism industry, especially quad bikes, but said the death was a "tragic accident".

"I think quad bikes, not just in New Zealand, but in Australia, are a very unsafe way of travel. Just after Chelsea got killed, a guy that I know quite well was killed by a quad bike on a farm, just out where I live, and I think the authorities realise now that these quad bikes are really unsafe, and they need to put in place safety measures like roll bars, or whatever they can do," said her uncle, Des Callaghan, speaking from Melbourne.

He said it was a "relief" Kukutai had been charged, saying he hoped it might "save someone else from getting on one of those quad bikes with the company, and the same thing happening".

Police investigating the crash said Kukutai was charged after they found "hundreds" of safety failures, ranging from mechanical and tyre issues and worn brakes.

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"With the tours going on-road and off-road it wasn't a safe environment and some of the people going on the tours had never ridden quad bikes before," said Constable Amy Weston, of the Manukau Serious Crash Unit.

Riverland Adventures' website states that no previous quad biking experience is necessary for those on its tours. It provides a 15-minute session on how to ride the quad bikes before participants head out on a tour.

Tours can last between one and five hours and take in "rugged terrain" over "mountains to the sea".

Weston confirmed that in July 2012, another woman suffered head injuries after her quad bike rolled on a Riverlands Adventure tour.

"She thought people who have never ridden quad bikes before should have the dangers explained," said Weston.

It is understood Riverland Adventures is still operating after getting their bikes "up to standard".

Riverlands owner Percy Kukutai would not comment, and his wife Nancy referred all queries to their lawyer.

TOURIST DEATHS

Oct 2012: Australian Chelsea Callaghan, 38, died when she crashed a quad bike during Riverland Adventures tour in Onewhero.

Dec 2011: Poi Moy Tan, 31, of Singapore, and Yu Ling Chen, 28, of Taiwan, drowned when they tried to cross the Waiho River while walking near Franz Josef Glacier.

Dec 2010: Frenchmen Raphael Serge Soubrier, 21, and Yoann Lucien Georges Firdion, 24, died kayaking on Lake Wakatipu in high winds.

Sep 2010: Patrick Byrne, 26, of Ireland, Bradley Coker, 24, of England, Glenn Bourke, 18, of Australia, and Annika Kirsten-Schmidt, 23, of Germany, among dead when Fox Glacier skydiving plane crashed.

May 2010: Sorem Kvist, 40, of Canada, killed when he fell from Copland Pass Track near Fox Glacier, despite warnings not to try the walk.

Oct 2009: Emily May Harper, 27, of US, found floating face down in Tory Channel during swimming with dolphins tour in Marlborough Sounds.

Jul 2009: Australian Llynden Riethmuller killed in an avalanche on Methven heli-skiing trip.

Jan 2009: Australian brothers Ashish Miranda, 24, and Akshay Miranda, 22, crushed to death when they ignored warning signs and tonnes of ice fell on them at Fox Glacier.

Apr 2008: English tourist Emily Jordan, 21, drowned while river-boarding near Queenstown.

- Sunday Star Times

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