Friday, 10 August 2012

Paritutu rock climbing accident, New Zealand.

Having been Director of the NZ Outward Bound School and Director of the Arapaepae outdoor pursuits centre in New Zealand, I can fully understand the grief, the dispair, the anger, the hurt and pain  that family and friends are going through after the tragedy at Paritutu rock. 
Every day for five years while running Outward Bound at Anakiwa, I would not only pray for student's safety daily, but would check, check and check again equipment, boats, trucks, kayaks, buses, ropes, rock faces,  safety manuals and think over and over in my mind, "have we given our instructors the best possible training?"
But sadly, incidents such as the Paritutu rock climbing tragedy occur, and will continue to occur in New Zealand, despite the best staff training, the best equipment and the best safety audits. It is a matter of statistics such as crashes of reputable airlines.
Shortly after I arrived at Anakiwa in the middle of 1983 to take over as Director, New Zealand held the first ever international Outward Bound conference. The Who's Who of the global outdoor education world came to Anakiwa and I had a chance to talk with them all. Tom Price, who took over from the great mountaineer Eric Shipton as Warden of the Eskdale Mountain Outward Bound School, the guru of outdoor education then,  told me this:

"Anyone can make adventure training safe by taking all the adventure out of it. The best safety lies not so much in the avoidance of danger but in learning how to deal with it."

In the 50's and 60's Tom Price wrote many articles on outdoor education, character building and referred frequently to managing risks.

Photo: Tom Price (left) with Bob McKerrow


From reading various barticles in the NZ media, this one caught my eye about safety checks
Topec board chairman David Grigg issued a statement saying it was conducting an internal investigation into what went wrong as staff reel from the loss of Jourdain, and the two students in their care.

By yesterday afternoon, much of the Topec website had been shut down, including the Paritutu Traverse climbing safety risk assessment.

Last month Topec was audited by Outdoors New Zealand and passed all safety checks.

Grigg said Topec was co-operating fully with all of the relevant authorities.

Garth Dawson, chief executive of Outdoors New Zealand, said all of the safety management systems and operating procedures had passed the July audit.

"Given the type of exercise of the Paritutu Traverse, it would have been fully investigated in terms of safety and everything passed the audit," he said.

Dawson said safety was the No 1 priority for outdoor pursuits instructors and Topec had no record of any previous serious incidents.

"Topec is a well-respected organisation not just in our own sector but in the educational and safety sectors as well," he said.



Rescue boats search the seas around Paritutu Rock yesterday for the two students and instructor missing since plunging from the rock into stormy seas on Wednesday. Photo / Christine Cornege

I know incidents such as the one at Paritutu will be thoroughly investigated and lessons learned shared throughout the outdoor world.

As the world becomes a much more dangerous place to live in and travel through, we cannot shield our children from danager, and I hope that the words of Tom Price, who is still rock climbing at 93, will be kept as a guiding principle in outdoor education:

"The best safety lies not so much in the avoidance of danger but in learning how to deal with it."

New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key said a full coroner's inquiry would be held, and added.


"Any kind of physical activity like this comes with a degree of risk. But obviously we make sure, when youngsters are involved, that that's a very managed risk." Has Mr. Key been reading Tom Price's latest book  Travail So Gladly Spent where he talks about managing risks in the outdoors ?

291 comments:

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Gollum said...

Bob

Agree with your sentiment, but this is the second major incident in the last couple of years in New Zealand where school kids have died on an outdoor course.

I am all for adventure training as hiking off into the bush with a 50 pound pack is a New Zealand thing to do. But exposing school children to unmanageable risks is something else. Heavy seas are very unpredictable and I really do wonder what a group of school children were doing on the rock in a heavy swell.

I feel for the parents - makes me appreciate how much my own parents must have worried about me when I was off in the bush and the hills.

Cheers

Gollum

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Bob,
I know the discourse that will emerge from this as wanting and needing to hold someone responsible. And part of me agrees with Gollum about that particular cliff and the seas around it as I have climbed on it myself. Yet having a teen age son I worry more about him on the streets, in cars, and at parties than I would if he were in the bush or mountains. And I almost did lose him once there. I wonder sometimes if far too many of our young people are so far removed from the wilderness and the seas that the risks and dangers will be too much, and it will be politicized and legislated into the too hard basket. Hope you are well e hoa.
Robb

Bob McKerrow said...

Dear Gollum and Robb

We all love and respect the outdoors and we like to introduce family and friends too. Walking with a 50 lb pack is almost a thing of the past for most NZ children and as parents abdicate responsibilities for the family walk and tramp, they give these responsibilities more and more to schools/outdoor ed centres. There have been huge improvements in the safety records of outdoor centres and calibre of staff has improved through rigorous training. Centres are popping up everywhere and the number of fatalities few in comparison to the throughput. New Zealand's coastlines in heavy swells are dangerous and I reserve judgement until I see a detailed report. I still gladly take my two boys into the outdoors and happily let the outdoor ed folk at school take them on trips.
Gollum, if I had of told my parents what I was climbing at 17, they would have had kittens. Cheers mates. I am sure the same with you. So back to our rocking chairs for more deliberations, and perhaps we can all raise a glass tonight for the wonderful outdoors we have in NZ.

Anonymous said...

Cheers Gollum for your comments. But i cant see what parties and cars have got to do with this tragedy? These young adults were under expert adult supervision, and the ones of us who are lucky enough to be able to cuddle the survivors today are still left with afew what ifs. As for the 3 we havnt seen since wednesday,my hart and thoughts are with there familys.

Ian Mac said...

Hi Bob,
Time is the only healer, no question we the whole Taranaki community felt the effects of this tragedy, I send my sincere best wishes to the families.
I regard himself as a Taranaki outdoors adventurer, about your vintage Bob, 1970s, when kayakers, rafters, rock climbers and mountaineers never wear helmets often no life jackets etc, let alone cyclists, skiers and surfers. Most of these adventurer sports are self moderating of gear wore and when except cycling which is compulsory.
Yep, these days, we are mend to be safer. I don’t think that some of the activities I take my tour clients on now are actually any different now to those put up for us as Boy Scouts Masters and dads back in the 50s and 60s. The only real difference now is the red tape, to keep people safe.
As a scout or in the school tramping club if I came home with cuts or skinned knee or injury, mum would say, ‘you silly duffer’, and throw me in the bath.
I think the adventurers and activities are still the same.
A few things have changed. One is students and young people are exposed to adventure activities earlier, abseiling and the like, therefore by the time they get to adults they think they have been there done that.
In this day and age, quite often, not in this tragedy I might ad, when it comes to outdoor adventure it is the people who think they need to push their boundaries.
People need to remember activities like the Paritutu Traverse, climbing a mountain or paddling a river, the challenges are still the same.

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MikeM said...

Hi Bob.

Had you realised that the text of this post (at least) has been lifted verbatim by an outdoor gear retailer in Melbourne for publication on their own blog? Probably to attract search results. See http://blog.adventuresafety.com.au/paritutu-rock-climbing-accident-new-zealand

They lifted one of my posts with no attribution or acknowledgement as if it was their own. They removed it when I asked, but I think it's their standard practice.

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