Skiers, snowboarders should wear helmets says coroner

23:51, Feb 17 2011
Safety first: Regional coroner Richard McElrea believes snowboarder and skiers should wear ski helmets.

All skiers and snowboarders should wear ski helmets, the Canterbury Coroner says.

Regional coroner Richard McElrea made the comment at an inquest in Ashburton yesterday into the death of American student Rachel Swett, 21, on Mt Hutt last year.

''The fact is that had she been wearing a ski helmet properly, there would have been much greater chance of survival,'' he said.

The coroner said ''every encouragement'' should be given to skiers and snowboarders to wear helmets.

However, he said that was not a recommendation for their mandatory use.

Swett died on June 23, six days after falling while skiing on an advanced track.

Swett, who was not wearing a helmet, hit her head on rocks, sustaining serious injuries.

She had been studying at the University of Canterbury and was due to return home to New York soon after the accident.

Her parents have since pushed for helmets to be made compulsory on New Zealand ski fields.

In a statement read by the coroner, Swett's parents said they wished their daughter had been able to come home, and ''that your inquest will prevent such losses happening to others''.

They hoped their daughter's death would lead to the mandatory wearing of helmets on New Zealand mountains.

Christchurch neurosurgeon Martin MacFarlane told the hearing a helmet could have saved Swett's life.

''[Skiers] have nothing to lose by wearing a helmet, and everything to gain,'' he said.

Independent ski-area expert Mark Woods said more signage could have been placed on the route that Swett and her friends tooknte, showing an intermediate ''blue'' run becoming an advanced ''black'' run.

''As a principle, it should not be possible to transfer from easier terrain to more difficult terrain. Blue runs should not lead to black runs.''

However, he said Mt Hutt was not negligent in its safety procedures.

Swett was an experienced skier.

The coroner also began an inquest into the death of Dimity Tomkins, 54, ntsGof Christchurch,nte who  died on July 12 last year after sliding more than 800 metres down the south-west face of Mt Hutt, just outside the ski-field boundary.

The Christchurch woman was wearing a helmet, which broke and fell off as she slid.

MacFarlane said she may have survived had the helmet not given way, and he had concerns about its design.
Woods agreed the helmet appeared deficient by breaking around the chinstrap and earpiece.

The inquest was adjourned when questions were raised about Mt Hutt management's liability for Tomkins' death under the Health and Safety Act.

The coroner said questioning by the Tomkins family counsel, Geoff Brodie, questioning had ''potential far-ranging implications,'' and ruled Mt Hutt management be given time to consider written questions.

What do you think? Do you wear a helmet skiing? Have your say at Or comment below. 


The Press