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March 2020 Issue
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Stop before you cross

The recovery of two bodies from the Makarora River has prompted a reminder to take extra precaution near flooded waterways.

Kevin Kum Fike Lee, 22, of Dunedin and a woman, who had not been formally identified at time of writing, were discovered in the river in early February after they’d been tramping together in Mt Aspiring National Park during severe weather. Lee was a senior member of the Otago University Tramping Club.

“We don’t yet know what happened to them, but we do know rivers can be dangerous,” said Mountain Safety Council CEO Mike Daisley “We want to share information for others to help them stay safe around swollen rivers.”

River crossings are the second highest direct cause of tramper fatalities, accounting for 12 deaths between July 2007 and June 2019.

“There are two common sayings you should consider when approaching a river: ‘stop before you cross’ and ‘if in doubt, stay out’,” Daisley said.

Trampers should avoid crossing if water is moving faster than walking pace, water is discoloured or full of  debris, or if boulders can be heard  rolling on the riverbed.

MSC has identified six main factors that have contributed to tramping deaths while crossing a river. The biggest factor was an unwise decision to attempt a crossing, while goal-focussed tramping and lack of river crossing skills were also identified. 

“The decision to cross a river must be made on the assessment of the river itself, not on the past experience or river crossing technical know-how of the trampers,” Daisley said. “Even when experienced trampers, with known river crossing skills, attempt to cross unsafe rivers they can be caught out by a flooded river. 

“Once you’ve lost your control in a fast-moving rive, self-rescue is extremely difficult.”