Tramper fatality prompts review

NEIL RATLEY
Last updated 05:00 05/06/2014

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The Department of Conservation is reviewing its operations after the death of a tramper on its Milford Track.

The independent review comes after Indonesian national Yessica Asmin, 22, was swept into the Clinton River after slipping while walking on the track on May 19.

As more people use the track in the off-season, DOC is considering how it can make the great walk safer in winter for independent trampers.

Asmin's boyfriend, Sean Mcnabb, and fellow tramper Sebastian Keilholz both said they had not been warned by DOC staff that the bridges on the famous walk had been removed.

The young trampers' claims have been backed up by a veteran Taranaki tramper who was also on the track when Asmin was killed. Steve Carrie, a tramper and climber with 32 years of experience, and his party crossed the flooded river hours before Asmin was killed. He said DOC staff did not tell him the bridges had been removed.

"I had rung DOC earlier in the week and been told all bridges were still in place and Sean's group were not told about bridges having been removed."

The river where Asmin was washed away was never bridged but the other bridges taken out made the track slower and more dangerous when there was heavy rain, Carrie said.

However, DOC said information about the removal of the bridges because of avalanche danger was provided at its Te Anau visitor centre, on its website and through briefings provided by transport operators. Carrie also questioned the availability of hut radios in the off-season. He and his party reached Mintaro Hut and tended to Keilholz and Mcnabb but could not use the radio.

"I believe that part of the radio system was removed at the end of the guided season which leaves anyone after that date more exposed in the event of an emergency," Carrie said.

DOC said hut radios were not for public use but were there for staff use during the summer track season. Southern South Island Department of Conservation director Allan Munn said the department would look at its systems to see if any changes were appropriate.

"The department will be asking an independent group with expertise in the New Zealand mountains to consider our operations and provide advice on anything that we could be doing differently to improve safety in what is an inherently dangerous environment, especially in winter," Munn said.

The Milford Track Great Walk is closed to guided walkers from May 1 to October 27 and DOC advises alpine skills are essential for independent trampers.

DOC and trampers working together:

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Steve Carrie – tramper and climber recommends:

DOC to provide accurate information about track conditions so each person or group can make informed decisions.

DOC to put in place better systems in the off-season.

DOC to have hut radios available year round.

DOC to provide more education about river crossings.

DOC to maintain up-to-date information leaflets and make these available at the DOC field centre and for boat operators to hand out when taking people to the start of the track.

Trampers to take mountain radios or personal locator beacons.

Trampers to improve their knowledge of river crossings, have the right equipment for a tramp in all conditions and know the limitations and abilities of each member of the group.

Trampers to be prepared to turn back when risks increase. 

- The Southland Times

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