Adrenaline junkies can choose thrills

SEAN PLUNKET
Last updated 05:00 12/05/2012

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Sean Plunket

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OPINION: There is a quote of indeterminate origin along the lines of "Why would anyone want to jump out of a perfectly good aeroplane".

It pretty well sums up my general approach to adventure sports like skydiving, bungee jumping, white water rafting and the like: ie, life is precious and while the odd hit of adrenaline is good for the soul, actually putting yourself at genuine risk in the pursuit of a hobby is simply not my cup of tea.

Which is not to say that those who do choose more extreme ways to get their recreational kicks shouldn't be allowed to, or that they have some death wish. They are just more adventurous than I am.

Briton Brad Coker, 24, who was killed when the skydiving plane he was in crashed at Fox Glacier in September 2010, was clearly an adventurous young man quite happy to put his young life in the hands of some tourist operators half a world away.

But in the end for Brad and the other victims of the accident the problem was that the plane wasn't "perfectly good" and he didn't get the chance to jump before his adventure ended in tragedy.

While not in any way trivialising his father's genuine grief, I do find it somewhat ironic that he has launched a campaign against our adventure tourism industry, which from available statistics and its continuing popularity thrills far more visitors than it kills.

Would he have been as outraged if his son had drowned while preparing to swim with a great white shark or fallen down a glacier while trying to conquer a peak in the Himalayas?

We could, of course, have more regulations and stricter monitoring regimes, more red tape and bigger warning signs, but I suspect all that would reduce the risk of inherently dangerous pursuits only marginally and increase the cost of such activities to tourists phenomenally.

For the adrenaline junkies it would also take the edge off experiences that are aimed at making the heart race, the world flash before one's eyes and the lower digestive tract contract or dilate well beyond its normal parameters.

"Approved operator" stickers and "meets all international safety standards" claims might give the appearance of a cast-iron guarantee. However, if you have to sign a form acknowledging you undertake an activity at your own risk, you have to accept that you are taking a leap of faith whatever the rules and regulations say.

It would be nice to think your balloon pilot or jet boat driver or mountain guide or pilot hasn't been out sucking on a bong the night before but to think any affordable testing regime could actually make that impossible is simply unrealistic.

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Every day, despite a plethora of signage, law enforcement, public education and the like, people take to our public roads drunk or stoned, we have car accidents that maim and kill, and of course, as the old saying goes, "you might get hit by a bus crossing the road".

Those risks are simply part of life and as a highly functional developed country I would suggest to Brad Coker's dad, Chris, we do not have a reckless disregard for the safety of our own citizens or others.

Asking a government or an industry to guarantee the safety of tourists or locals might be an easy solution but learning to exercise personal discretion and judgment in how we choose to go about our lives and whose hands we put them in might be more effective.

The cheapest commercial thrills are often the most risky and any operation that looks like it is run on a shoestring probably is. If you don't feel safe you have a choice to make – feel the fear and do it anyway or do what I'd do, chicken out and ask for your money back.

For Brad and his fellow adventurers that may not have made any difference but after a thorough investigation we at least know what went wrong above Fox Glacier and how to fix it.

Still, we can get caught up in the moment. I was game fishing off Port Vila with a mate a week ago – big swells, local crew, and a few moments which felt a little hairy. As we pondered our lack of Marlin over a beer later we both remarked we hadn't seen a lifejacket all day.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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