Coroner’s report prompts river safety reminder  

1st July 2021|2 min


The release of the coroner’s findings into a Hawke’s Bay river crossing tragedy is a timely reminder for trampers to refresh their knowledge on how to identify an unsafe river, says NZ Mountain Safety Council (MSC). 

River crossings are the second highest cause of tramper fatalities in New Zealand. Since 2007, there have been 21 river crossing fatalities. Of these, 14 were related to tramping, six were hunters and one was related to trail running.

This week Coroner JP Ryan released his findings into the tragic death of Edward Hearnshaw.  

Hearnshaw, 43, of Wellington, and his friend, Geoff Simmons, were tramping in the Ruahine Forest Park on Queen's Birthday weekend last year when they were swept down the river in an attempted river crossing. 

Simmons was able to self-rescue, however Hearnshaw was not.  

The pair were on their way back to the carpark after tramping in the Ruahine Ranges over the long weekend. 

However, they were unable to cross the Makaroro River at the original crossing point as the water level had risen due to significant rain overnight and so they attempted a crossing further upstream at a different location, the coroner’s report states. 

MSC Chief Executive Mike Daisley says unfortunately, this tragedy highlights the dangers that can be involved when crossing rivers. 

“If in doubt, always stay out, even if the river looks low enough to cross. Don’t underestimate what it might be like once you’ve entered.” 

Daisley says it is much safer to spend a night on the riverbank waiting for the river level to drop than it is to attempt a crossing.  

When it comes to any river crossing MSC advises people to stop before they cross, take the time to assess the river and determine if it’s safe to attempt a crossing. 

“All flooded rivers are unsafe. Once you’ve lost control in a flooded, fast-moving river, you’ve lost your ability to control the situation and self-rescues can be extremely difficult to achieve,” he says.  

Daisley stresses the importance of looking for signs that a river is unsafe, which are: 

  • Water moving faster than normal walking pace. 
  • Discoloured, cloudy, or surging water. 
  • Visible debris in the river such as tree branches. 
  • The sound of rolling boulders on the riverbed. 

MSC has many free resources to help people assess whether a river is safe to cross and how to do so safely. 

MSC extends its condolences to Edward’s family, friends and colleagues. 

Caption: River level can change dramatically over 24hours as pictured.