A month on from a tragedy, it's time to talk

19:53, Sep 06 2012

Tomorrow will mark a month since Spotswood College students Stephen Kahukaka-Gedye and Felipe Melo and Taranaki Outdoor Pursuits and Education Centre (Topec) instructor Bryce Jourdain were swept out to sea during a rock climbing exercise at Paritutu.

The families of all three have come to terms with the tragedy, but to add to the pain only one body, that of Brazilian student Felipe Melo, has been recovered despite extensive searches, though unofficial searches continue.

The families have spoken publicly about how they have appreciated the support and sympathy they have received.

Questions have still be to answered about the tragedy, and a Labour Department spokesperson said it could be up to six months before its report is available.

It was no surprise, then, that immediately after the tragedy Topec declined to talk to the media. Indeed, it went further than that by closing down its website. The Topec board chairman David Grigg did issue a statement saying it was conducting an internal investigation into what went wrong.

The organisation's silence, and the fact the Labour Department investigation was likely to take so long prompted fears that it could shut up shop completely. As a result, the Taranaki Daily News devoted a front page to that issue to highlight the fact that Topec was held in high regard, and had started the year planning its silver anniversary, and boasting of catering for more than 27,000 people. A Daily News survey, which attracted almost 1000 reponses, had more than 85 per cent supporting Topec resuming its operations.


Matt Rilkoff, in that front page report, noted: "How the incident has affected Topec itself is easy to guess, but impossible to know. Its website has been pulled and a cone of silence has gone up around the centre since the deaths. Requests to even talk about this article with Topec director Steve Ralph or Topec board chairman David Grigg have proved fruitless."

It was a shock, then, when it was revealed that Topec was back in business, with the exception of the Paritutu traverse, just two days after that story appeared.

Hawera High School principal Hans Konlechner said Mr Ralph had spoken to parents of the students going on a week long course. That information was not released by Topec, which continued to refuse to speak publicly. It came from Taranaki headmasters.

Topec's decision to decline to discuss anything in the wake of the tragedy was understandable. But to go a month without any further public acknowledgement of the tragedy or what it is doing is harder to comprehend.

The community, and indeed this newspaper, is hugely supportive of an organisation which has catered for thousands of people for a quarter of a century.

On Sunday a memorial service will be held for Bryce Jourdain, who jumped into the sea to try to save Stephen Kahukaka- Gedye and Felipe Melo after they were swept into the sea.

It is an ideal time for Topec to break its silence.

Taranaki Daily News