MEDIA RELEASE Coroner rules the death of an experienced hunter was due to a preventable fall
For immediate release
Complacency in Aotearoa’s outdoors is a common mistake that can be made by even the most experienced trampers and hunters, says the NZ Mountain Safety Council (MSC).
Long time hunter and tramper Paul Laurie had experience on his side when he headed into the Mt Aspiring National Park on a hunt with a mate in January 2020. Unfortunately, Laurie fell while hunting in high consequence terrain, a coroner’s report released today has confirmed. Falls are the most common cause of hunting injuries and fatalities according to detailed analysis conducted by MSC.
MSC was asked to provide an independent expert report for the coroner considering factors that could have caused Laurie’s death, including recommendations on preventing future fatalities.
On 17 January, 2020, Laurie, 61, and his hunting partner headed for into the Kea Basin in the Mt Aspiring National Park. At about 1.30pm the next day, the two men were negotiating steep and slippery terrain. The coroner’s findings state that the two men separated, with Laurie’s friend choosing a more conservative route. A short time after, the friend heard some noises and discovered that Laurie had fallen about 30m to the base of a waterfall.
After contacting emergency services, Laurie’s body was located by an air rescue team around 6.35pm that day.
The MSC report highlights that while Laurie was an extremely experienced tramper and hunter, and challenged himself in the outdoors, he was not known to be a risk-seeker. Having this level of experience can sometimes subconsciously lead to a degree of complacency, the report says.
Heuristic traps, also commonly known as 'mental shortcuts', are often present in outdoor recreation incidents, occasionally leading to serious consequences in the unforgiving backcountry environment. One of these traps, familiarity, can lead to complacency and overlooking or underestimating hazards and risks.
The MSC report makes note of the terrain, stating that Laurie had little to no opportunity to halt his fall. It appears that he misperceived the risk associated with the terrain and continued to proceed along his chosen route. Meanwhile, his friend chose to deviate onto more conservative terrain, minimising the potential of a high-consequence fall.
The coroner endorsed the recommendations provided in the MSC report. The recommendations are targeted at adventures with a reasonable level of outdoor experience.
- If you are experienced, be wary of the inherent human inclination toward complacency, underestimating risks, and over-estimating personal ability.
- Correct route selection is critical, and an adaptable approach should be maintained in relation to dynamic terrain and circumstances. Critical to this approach is maintaining constant awareness of terrain traps, such as bluffs or cliffs below.
- Stop, think, assess, and talk with your fellow travellers about the options you have, and as you do this consider the likelihood of a fall and the consequences if you were to lose your footing. Avoid terrain traps or do as much as you can to manage the risk of them.
MSC extends its sincere condolences to Paul Laurie’s family and friends.
- Read more on heuristics traps, known as ‘mental shortcuts’ on the NZ Mountain Safety Council website.
Header photo: Kea Basin Track by Nicholas Booth.