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History of sentenced adventure operators

Published: 11:49AM Thursday July 29, 2010 Source: NZPA

Sentenced to 400 hours' community service today, Palmerston North bridge swing operator Alistair Ross McWhannell stretched the list of adventure tourism operators punished by the legal system for their part in fatal misadventures.

McWhannell, held responsible for the fatal fall last year of a university student, was thought to be the fourth successful prosecution in five years over an adventure-tourism related death, and the third finding of manslaughter since 1990.

Catherine Peters, a first-year Massey University student, died after plunging 20 metres on to rocks below Ballance Bridge in the Manawatu on March 7, 2009.

McWhannell, 47, who had sole responsibility for the swing, was found guilty of manslaughter after prosecutors said he had failed to pull the rope up to the correct length and properly secure it.

He must pay $10,000 in reparation to the family of Peters.

In 1990, bungy jump-master Jason John Collett was also found guilty of manslaughter after Thomas Wayne Hemi, 19, that year fell to his death during a bungy jump at Auckland amusement park Rainbow's End on February 10.

Collett, 19 at the time, failed to attach Hemi's bungy cords, evidence was given that he and Hemi smoked cannabis together shortly before the jump.

When delivering its guilty verdict, the jury made a special recommendation for Collett to be granted mercy, and he was later sentenced to 200 hours' community service.

More than a decade later, a harsher penalty was handed to Stephen Parson, who admitted responsibility for the hang-gliding death of Greek Tourist Eleni Zeri.

Zeri, 23, died during a tandem hang-gliding flight over Queenstown on March 29, 2003, after Parson, the tandem pilot, failed to attach the carabiner on her harness to a hang loop on the glider.

When Zeri told Parson, then 53, she was unable to hold on he tried to grip on to her with his legs, but she fell about 200m to her death.

Convicted of manslaughter after pleading guilty partway through his trial, Parson was sentenced to 350 hours' community work and ordered to pay $10,000 reparation.

Adventure tourism has come under the media glare in a number of other recent deaths. In particular, two cases in 2008 raised questions about the unregulated nature of the industry.

On April 15, 2008, students Natasha Bray, Portia McPhail, Tara Gregory, Tom Hsu, Anthony Mulder and Floyd Fernandes, and teacher Tony McClean from Auckland's Elim Christian College died in the Mangatepopo Gorge near Turangi when washed away by a wall of water.

They were on an outdoor adventure course with the The Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre.

The centre admitted two charges laid by the Department of Labour, which said the group should not have entered the gorge given a weather forecast predicting heavy rain in the area.

Two weeks later, English tourist Emily Jordan, 21, drowned while river boarding with Queenstown company Mad Dog.

She was trapped under a rock underwater for 20 minutes, as the guides, who were not carrying ropes, struggled to free her.

Mad Dog was fined $66,000 and ordered to pay reparation of $80,000 to Jordan's family after admitting two charges of failing to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of their customers, employees and other clients.

Tourism Minister John Key called for a review of the industry's safety standards after receiving a letter from Jordan's father, Chris Jordan, pleading him to clamp down on lax operators.