Tramper’s death a warning – coroner

| January 11, 2013 | 0 Comments

The death of a tramper who drowned after breaking his neck while trying to cross a swollen creek in Mt Richmond Forest Park has highlighted the dangers of river crossings, particularly while tramping alone, coroner Carla na Nagara says.

The inquest into the death of 23-year-old Sharny Aaron Abbott in December 2011 found that he drowned, but the pathologist found that a fractured neck and spinal cord injury were likely to have happened as he was swept downstream, resulting in paralysis of a quadriplegic type that meant Mr Abbott would not have been able to make any effort to surface.

“As such, the pathologist considered the injury significantly contributed to the fatal drowning,” Ms na Nagara said in her findings, released this week.

Mr Abbott’s body was found near the edge of the Roding River on December 6, 2011, about seven kilometres downstream from where he is believed to have lost his footing while crossing the Hacket Creek.

The Richmond man had left on a solo tramp in the park on Friday, December 2. He expected to be gone for several days, and left his mother a detailed plan of where he thought he would go. He was carrying a 25- to 30-kilogram pack, which the coroner noted was heavier than most trampers would carry.

Mr Abbott, described as an experienced tramper, left the Hacket car park and walked to Starveall Hut, where he spent the night. He was in touch with his mother and girlfriend that night, indicating he had suffered cramp in his legs, his running shoes had been rubbing his heels and his pack had been rubbing his lower back.

The coroner said Mr Abbott left the next morning for Slaty Hut, but phoned his mother that afternoon to say he was turning back due to failing weather. He was expected back home on the Sunday night.

He returned to Starveall Hut, where several young trampers were staying. They spent the evening talking with him.

Mr Abbott’s lack of proper tramping footwear, and an indication that he would not hesitate to cross rivers because he was determined to get home, contributed to the group’s view that he lacked experience, Ms na Nagara said.

It had rained on and off throughout the Saturday, and the rain was then “extremely heavy” overnight.

Ms na Nagara said the other trampers left the hut just before 1pm on the Sunday. Mr Abbott was still there, but was packed and ready to leave.

After he had not returned home by Monday evening, his mother contacted the police. A search was launched the next morning and, following media reports, one of the group of trampers contacted the police and told them of the route Mr Abbott had planned to take.

Ms na Nagara said a member of the Search and Rescue team with expertise in tracking followed evidence of where Mr Abbott had been to the Hacket Creek where it met the first river crossing. The creek had to be crossed at a 90-degree angle, which involved fighting the current. It was flowing at waist height, but it was clear that in the days prior it had been up to half a metre higher.

There were no signs indicating Mr Abbott had made it to the other side of the creek, at that point at least, Ms na Nagara said.

Items belonging to Mr Abbott were found in the bed of the Roding River later that afternoon. His body was found that evening in a willow tree near the edge of the Roding River, below the Hacket car park.

The Nelson Mail reported just before Christmas 2011 that Mr Abbott’s pack was found in the Waimea Estuary and handed to police by a member of the public.

Ms na Nagara said that on the basis of the evidence, she found that Mr Abbott drowned after being swept off his feet while trying to cross the Hacket Creek while it was running high following heavy rain.

“It is a sad reminder of the need to be cautious and alert to risk when confronted with the challenges the natural environment presents,” she said.

– © Fairfax NZ News

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