Temporary sign warns of danger

ACCIDENT SITE: A warning sign below the Maruia Falls remains, but one above the falls has disappeared
ACCIDENT SITE: A warning sign below the Maruia Falls remains, but one above the falls has disappeared

Temporary signage has been erected at Maruia Falls, warning people not to go beyond the safety barriers after a drowning and a near-fatality during the past week.

The signage is an initial response after Conservation Minister Nick Smith ordered a review of the safety barriers and signs yesterday.

Darryl Rolton, 54, of Christchurch drowned on Saturday night after he jumped over the 11-metre falls in a bid save his 55-year-old friend, who had been sucked down a chute.

The victim was one of three men from Canterbury who had stopped at the falls on their way to Nelson, police said.

The group climbed over the barrier fence, and the man went for a paddle in the pools above the falls about 6pm, despite his friends trying to persuade him not to. He was then sucked down a chute.

The third man, 48, of Kaiapoi, together with onlookers, tied two cargo strops together and managed to rescue the 55-year-old.

He was flown to Nelson Hospital by the Nelson Marlborough rescue helicopter with spinal injuries and was discharged on Sunday.

Mr Rolton was last seen floating face down in the water before disappearing and his body was recovered by police divers about 3.30pm on Sunday. The matter has been referred to the coroner.

The death followed the rescue of a Belgian tourist last Wednesday.

The 60-year-old climbed over a barrier to take photographs of the falls, but slipped and fell four metres on to a ledge.

He was saved by three Australian kayakers, who managed to pull him to safety.

He was discharged from Nelson Hospital on Friday.

Dr Smith said he met with officials yesterday and they were going to assess the current conditions and finalise the report by next Monday.

"Obviously we are looking at urgency to replace the signage as quick as possible but we are also reviewing water safety in the wider area.

"The department has acted very responsibly in the wake of almost a double tragedy.

"We take safety very seriously and greatly feel for the family who has lost their loved one."

The Department of Conservation was planning to make the site more enjoyable but a lot more safer, he said.

DOC spokesman Reuben Williams said there were generally two signs in place that warned people of the dangers of the area and to not go beyond the barriers.

While one sign at the bottom of the falls remained intact, one was removed and possibly stolen just outside the barriers.

A temporary sign had since been erected following Saturday's accident.

The investigation under Dr Smith's instructions would determine what other options might be available.

Signs were frequently vandalised or stolen across the country, he said.

The department worked hard at ensuring they were regularly replaced.

But he asked the public to exercise common sense when entering dangerous areas.

"We are asking people to put their safety first.

"These falls have been known to be dangerous. It is a tricky one because we can only do what we can and it is really up to the public to adhere to what we advise."

But Murchison-based New Zealand Kayak School director Mick Hopkinson, who assisted with the Saturday's rescue, said he did not think improved signs would fix the problem.

Police had put emergency tape over the entrance after Saturday's incident but people were still climbing over the barriers, he said.

"You would need a 30-foot wall to stop people going over the barriers.

"We almost need a Monty Python-esque sign saying ‘do not go over the barrier or you will die'."

Because of the nature of the landscape, New Zealanders did what they liked.

"We have the wilderness juxtaposed to our state highways."

Instead, there needed to be a safety culture shift, and this started in schools, he said.

The Nelson Mail