Tramper vents anger at DOC

NEIL RATLEY, BRIDGET RAILTON AND COLLETTE DEVLIN
Last updated 05:00 22/05/2014
Yessica Asmin
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FOUND: Yessica Asmin was swept away while crossing a swollen river along the Milford Track.

Sebastian Kielholz
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SEBASTIAN KIELHOLZ: "My teeth were broken, blood came out of my mouth and Jessica was gone."
tramper boyfriend Sean McNabb
WATCHED IN HORROR: Yessica Asmin's boyfriend Sean Mcnabb.
Milford track stream
SWEPT AWAY: Searchers by the swollen stream where Yessica Asmin was swept into the river on the Milford Track.

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The boyfriend of tramper Yessica Asmin last night described her death as "losing a part of me".

Sean Mcnabb, of Sydney, was with his girlfriend on the Milford Track when she was swept away into the swollen Clinton River after trying to cross a stream.

Her body was found yesterday afternoon once the weather had cleared enough for a helicopter to resume looking for the 22-year-old.

Mcnabb, on a Facebook post, said: "Today I lost a part of me, I'm very lost at this time."

Messages of love and support dominated Facebook pages for the young couple in amongst demand for better warning signs and bridges on the Milford Track.

German backpacker Sebastian Keilholz, 20, from Bamberg, has vented his anger towards the Department of Conservation after watching helplessly as Asmin was swept into an icy river on the Milford Track on Monday.

"I would never go [on] such a dangerous track if I knew that there are no bridges.

"I hope they will find her in the next days."

"I'm angry that they didn't tell us that there are no bridges and I'm angry that I couldn't help her.

"They didn't tell us that there are no bridges, so we had only one option to go across the river, and the water was too strong, the girl wasn't able to go on the other side, so she fell into the water and died," he told friends.

DOC has fired back, saying they can't monitor everything.

DOC spokesperson Rory Newsam said a lot of people thought it was DOC's job to follow people around like "the safety police" but that was impossible.

They made every effort to inform people of the hazards they were likely to face on the tracks via websites and information centres, he said.

The Clinton River has been described as high and fast flowing.

The river peaked at 2.2m on Tuesday night and was running with the increased flow of rainfall from the mountains.

The normal operational safe level determined by DOC for its staff working in or near the Clinton River is 0.25m.

DOC Fiordland district conservation services manager Grant Tremain said anyone attempting a tramp, at any time of the year, needed to be aware that river crossings were hazardous.

The Mountain Safety Council's website says New Zealand has an average of three river-crossing deaths each year and 80 per cent of those were in flooded rivers or side streams. Mountain Safety Council outdoor land safety programme manager Nathan Watson said river crossings were easily one of the more significant hazards in the outdoors.

Milford Track guide Ray Willett said the tragedy showed more should be done to educate foreign visitors on the dangers of tramping in New Zealand.

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The winter season on most DOC tracks was largely unmonitored, with independent trampers free to walk at their own discretion, he said.

Willett, who once worked as a hut warden at Pompolona where the trio had stayed, said more could be done to make foreign visitors aware of the dangers on tramps.

"At DOC offices, where 99 per cent of youngsters go before tramping, I would like to see a life size statue or cut-out of a tramper in his tramping gear up to his thighs in water and a sign reading ‘you are in danger in swift water this deep'."

Milford Track Great Walk was closed to guided walkers from May 1 to October 27 but the track is open through the winter for independent trampers.

Te Anau water taxi company Cruise Te Anau owner Peter Kirker, who transports people to the beginning of the Milford track, said between them and one other transport company, up to 100 -300 people could be on the track in May.

He would not transport anyone unless they had a personal locator beacon or a mountain radio with their group. Even so, there were always a few people less than fully prepared for the trip, he said.

A spokeswoman from the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia in Wellington said her colleague collected Asmin's parents from Queenstown Airport yesterday and drove them to Te Anau.

The spokeswoman said the parents seemed to be as strong as they could in this situation.

EDUCATING TRAMPERS

Federated Mountains Clubs president Robin McNeill said tourists might not have enough knowledge about the risks of river crossings.

"Home-grown kiwi trampers learn three things about going tramping: the variability of the weather, exposure to that weather and rivers and river crossings.

"These are things we get brought up on in New Zealand and overseas visitors might not have that depth of knowledge."

- The Southland Times

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