WELLINGTON, New Zealand – A New Zealand court fined an adventure tourism company Tuesday and ordered it to pay reparations to the family of an English woman who drowned while river boarding.
Mad Dog River Boarding pleaded guilty to two counts of negligence after Emily Jordan, 21, from the English county of Worcester, drowned in April 2008 after being trapped underwater for 20 minutes while her boyfriend watched helplessly from the river bank.
Queenstown District Court ordered the company to pay a fine of 66,000 New Zealand dollars ($45,000) and pay NZ$80,000 ($55,000) to Jordan’s family.
Labor Department prosecutor Brent Stanaway told the court on Monday that the company’s guides carried no rescue ropes and its safety plan failed to meet industry standards.
Guides from another river boarding company used rescue ropes to retrieve Jordan’s body.
The Queenstown region on New Zealand’s South Island is widely known for adventure tourism, and 11 people have died since 1998 in adventure tourism accidents.
River boarding involves a flotation board used to “shoot” river rapids. Jordan was trapped under a protruding rock as she navigated through a white water rapid on the Kawarau River and the powerful water flow forced her below the surface. Three river guides were unable to free her.
The Maritime Safety Authority, responsible for overseeing water sports safety standards, said the court ruling was a wake-up call for whitewater tourism operators.
“In this case, there was a wide gap between the normal accepted industrywide standards of safety practiced by other white water operators and those used by Mad Dog,” authority spokesman Steve van der Splinter said.
Jordan’s father, Chris, said he hoped the verdict would spark changes in safety practices among extreme sports.
“What’s really come home to me (is) how preventable this death was,” he told New Zealand’s National Radio.