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Tragedy near Kime Hut, part 3

Also see Tragedy near Kime Hut [1] and Tragedy near Kime Hut, part 2 [2].

Amelia [3] recently pointed me at a lengthy feature article in last Saturday’s Dominion Post, which expresses a detailed investigation of what happened when two people died in a blizzard near Bridge Peak in the Tararuas, prior to reaching Kime Hut in July 2009. The article is online, courtesy of Stuff:

Lost: how tramp turned to tragedy [4]

The article uses sources such as the Police inquest file, witness statements and various SAR resources. The author’s also filled in some gaps with likely presumptions. It’s more detailed than regular news articles, and worth a read.

This incident has been covered a lot in various places on this blog, beginning with:

Discussions that relate to the incident also exist under:

12 Comments (Open | Close)

12 Comments To "Tragedy near Kime Hut, part 3"

#1 Comment By Amelia On 29 October, 2010 @ 5:36 pm

Do you agree that it was a fair summary of what might have happened? I think it gave a lot more weight to the SaR staff and the actual area. I thought it was a good read.

#2 Comment By Mike McGavin On 29 October, 2010 @ 6:03 pm

Hi Amelia. She’s filled in parts of the story that we’ll likely never know and there were also presumptions about things like what might have happened, such as if those other people in jeans and sneakers had tried to get to Kime as they’d asked about right at the bottom. (I bet lots of people of that description ask about such things but never seriously follow through after they’ve realised what they’re getting into. If they’d gone anywhere they’d have probably stopped at Field.) But yes it’s a good read and she seems to have pulled in lots of good sources to write the article. I hadn’t heard about the Kime door being open, which suggests another possibility.

I still think it’d be useful to have some objective analysis of the decisions that were made and how they were made, which I didn’t feel was really covered by the coroner. Certainly not to criticise people because, to be honest, everyone makes mistakes and many people get away with it and learn something. That’s why it’s meant to be good practice to over-prepare, so as to allow some slack for the occasional mistakes. But I guess in my mind, it seems to be decisions that cause people to have problems more than anything else.

Many things might have saved them from death in this case, but something that almost certainly would have prevented a problem in the first place is if they’d realised what was happening, compared it with their resources and made a decision not to go ahead, or to turn back at a time when they still could. For whatever reason that didn’t happen, and I’m not sure if that’s really been covered much in a way that can be learned from. Instead there’s been media about cellphones and checking forecasts before leaving, which feels superficial in comparison, and potentially able to mislead people about what’s most important.

#3 Comment By Philip Wilkie On 29 October, 2010 @ 8:15 pm

I found a really worthwhile and thoughtful read. The ‘dead tree’ version is a lot longer than the online one and pulled together a lot of loose ends into a finely written narrative.

One thing that really stunned me when I noticed it; was the photo taken by Lars Hansen from Bridge Peak looking back towards Field Peak (it’s a dramatic and moody looking pic)…but the while the sky was dark and threatening, visibility was still excellent.

All the same Lars and Shjaan were a little leary of the icy track and decided to turn back to Field Hut… and met Seddon and Rosie about 10 min later on the ridge back down to Dennan.

“They had also planned to overnight at Kime, but, Hansen explained to Bennington, they were spooked by the track ice and the thick, dark cloud pouring over Bridge Peak ahead.

They’d decided instead to drop back down to Field Hut. A keen rock climber, Hansen reckoned the track needed crampons, which they didn’t have. ”

Yet when Seddon and Rosie reached Bridge, which could not have been more than 25-30min later than the photo was taken, visibility had deteriorated to the point that they took the wrong turn. That 30 min was their crucial window of opportunity to return to Field.

Like a lot of people, I’ve have been very struck by this baffling tragedy. The lessons I’ve come up with are:

1. Always pay attention to your last ‘point of safety’. It’s so easy to keep walking on past it without thinking, getting committed into a place andor conditions beyond which you don’t have a Plan B.

2. A mapping GPS, and EPRIB or even a cellphone would likely have made all the difference. The GPS would have walked them into the hut, and communication could have gotten a SAR team to them in time…maybe. (I realise conditions were horrendous, but with solid known coords a team might have been able to reach them.)

I get the impression that Seddon (and to be fair as head of Te Papa he was a busy man) simply didn’t pay enough attention to planning and packing for the weekend. He even left behind his mitts which for a winter trip is a serious ommission. Overall I get the impression of a confident, successful man who overeached himself by failing to pay attention to the details of what he was doing and what was going on around him. Especially perhaps the capacity of Rosie to cope with an adverse turn of events.

Tramping is a mixture of fitness, skills and confidence. Yet no matter how good you are, the leader needs to have a Plan B if things go wrong. When they got to Bridge Peak with no visibility, a rising southerly…Seddon should have asked himself “what if we miss Kime?”. If he had asked that question, the only valid answer was to turn back to Field. Confidence is not the same thing as judgement.

#4 Comment By Mike McGavin On 29 October, 2010 @ 8:59 pm

Thanks Philip. I may hop down to the library if I get a chance over the weekend and try to get a photocopy. I’m regretting I missed the chance to buy my own copy last weekend, but I’m still glad I went tramping. 🙂 I notice Lars posted the odd photo from that weekend on his Flickr account (of those, [13]). I do find it interesting that if Lars and Shjaan were interviewed by the Coroner, they don’t seem to feature at all in his report unless I missed it somewhere. I’m not sure if they’d have added anything though, so perhaps that’s why.

I think I pretty much agree with everything you’ve said, although if good visibility played a part in making the decision, I’d like to know more about it and what sorts of things might have helped to better identify what was about to happen. I think you’re also right that there’s a good chance tramper#1 might have made an incorrect judgement about the capabilities of tramper#2, perhaps landing them both in trouble. It’s hard to say for sure without detailed information that we’ll probably never have, but it wouldn’t be the first time something like that has happened.

On the decision thing, I think maybe I’ve just felt bothered because to me it seems as if the more official and more public determinations about what happened have shied away from talking about it, and I wonder if it’s because people are concerned about imposing some kind of responsibility or implied fault on the deceased. It’s really just my impressions, and I’m no qualified expert in this kind of thing. A bottom line is that lots of people probably get into this sort of situation, most get out of it through luck, these two may have escaped through doing something slightly differently at any time and few people would have been the wiser that there was ever a danger, but at the same time as making some mistakes they happened to be less lucky than many other people.

#5 Comment By Amelia On 29 October, 2010 @ 10:23 pm

Mike, I have the paper version at home and if you want I can arrange to get Mark to photocopy it at work on Tuesday and drop it off to you guys.
Send me an email if you want us to do that 🙂

#6 Comment By Philip Wilkie On 30 October, 2010 @ 6:50 pm

The other thing that the paper version has is a good map showing the area and were everthing was. Strikingly the two bodies were found a some distance apart on the ridge to Vosseller.

What I’m thinking might well have happened is that they reached Bridge Peak in marginal conditions, got some distance past it toward Kime, realised they could find find or reach it and turned back obviously intending to return to Field.

But in the rapidly deteriorating visibility, and likely no chance of using a map or compass in the high wind, when they again reached Bridge they simply took the wrong spur down and headed deeper into the Main Range. Who knows how far they got before they realised their mistake.

Pure speculation I know, but my gut feeling tells me this was a pretty plausible scenario.

#7 Comment By Mike McGavin On 31 October, 2010 @ 2:08 pm

Hi guys. Was it definitely the DomPost of 23rd October as the date on the Stuff article implies? (Front page story about a shamed police officer getting a job in London?) If so, which page number? I’ve just been through two separate copies of this newspaper—one from the library and one from my workplace—and can’t for the life of me find this story anywhere. Thanks for the offer, Amelia. If I can’t track it down then I might take you up on it (but with no urgency).

#8 Comment By Amelia On 31 October, 2010 @ 10:03 pm

@Mike – it was in the “Your Weekend” section of the paper on Saturday 23/10/10. Took about 5 pages of the magazine.
Hope that helps the hunt. We do still have it at home.

#9 Comment By Mike McGavin On 2 November, 2010 @ 10:26 pm

Okay I finally have a scanned copy, thanks Amelia (and Mark)!

Philip, it sounds plausible to me (just not verifiable I guess, even if likely).

#10 Comment By Mike McGavin On 8 November, 2010 @ 9:51 am

I may be the last person to notice this, but [4] actually has quite a nice little gallery of photos at the top, including more photos than what was printed. You just have to click the Next and Previous buttons.

#11 Comment By Peter On 20 February, 2012 @ 3:57 pm

Weve recently did 7 days in that area and that intersection remains problematic. After reading the 23/10/2010 stuff article i find it odd that the intersection remains unsignposted and confusing. The three orange triangles are still there, with Kime scratched on one of them, but even in good conditions we found this area a maze of paths.

#12 Comment By Mike McGavin On 20 February, 2012 @ 4:22 pm

Thanks, Peter. For what it’s worth, the coroner’s inquest did not even consider signage as far as I can tell, after another quick flick through the final report. (More thoughts about the coroner’s findings are in [6] as well as a little in what I posted above.) I can email you a copy if you like, and haven’t already seen it. It’s public information, but I haven’t posted it online because the situation’s obviously sensitive and I didn’t want to undermine the Coroner’s office’s possible decision not to do so.