Crash ends thrilling ride

Lookout! Issue 24, March 2012

Several passengers on board a jet boat thrill ride ended up spending the rest of the afternoon in hospital when the boat crashed into a rock face.
Accident scene
Maritime New Zealand ©2019
The accident scene, looking downstream.

The river-based ride was one of many carried out that day in a well-known jet boating adventure tourism area. Drivers had noticed that the river’s water levels had been dropping over the few preceding days, and a sand bank had appeared next to one of the trip’s main thrill features.

Drivers typically used this large bare rock face to delight passengers with a ‘turn-in, turn-out, turn-on manoeuvre’ in which the boat seems to be heading straight for the rock face, but slides past just in the nick of time. In fact, the risk is merely perceived, as the boat remains well clear when the manoeuvre is properly executed.

The driver was suitably qualified and experienced to carry out the trip, but he was the company’s least experienced driver. It had been noted in the company’s river diary for that day that the water was “Good. Thin in the middle! Watch bar”.

Damage
Some of the damage to the stern of the jet boat.
Maritime New Zealand ©2019

The falling water level meant that drivers had three options. They could take the boat into the thin channel of water between the sand bar and the river bank to reach the thrill rock face, drive around the outside of the bar, or opt to leave out the rock face part of the trip.

The driver decided to avoid the narrow channel, and drove the jet boat loaded with 14 passengers around the outside of the sandbar before heading back towards the rock face and attempting the turn-in, turn-out, turn-on manoeuvre.

The change in position on the river altered the driver’s angle of approach. He misjudged the manoeuvre and, instead of sliding sideways clear of the rock face, the jet boat’s stern crashed into it. The impact caused significant damage to the stern, and all but two of the passengers suffered injuries, including whiplash, back pain, headache, cuts, sprains and bruises. Five passengers were admitted to hospital. The driver was unharmed.

LOOKOUT! Points

  • Normally, the river was largely unchanging, and the company trained its drivers to carry out specific manoeuvres at set points along the route, rather than focusing on a skill base, which they could apply at their own discretion. As a result, although the driver was qualified, he was experienced in the river only as it usually presented.
    • The sand bar changed the vessel’s angle of approach, and although he had made two successful trips earlier that day, this time he was caught out. A balance should be sought between adherence to a trip plan and ensuring drivers have the ability to cope with change.
  • The company policy was that a driver in any doubt about carrying out a manoeuvre should leave it out. The driver would have been fully at liberty not to attempt this thrill manoeuvre.
  • Adventure tourism operators should bear in mind that although they may be making the same trip several times a day, even being in a jet boat is usually an exciting experience for a passenger.

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