Teen breaks bones in climbing accident

By Kiri Gillespie

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A Tauranga schoolgirl suffered broken bones and is confined to a wheelchair for four months after falling 4 metres on to a concrete floor during a rock climbing exercise at an indoor climbing centre.

The manager of the climbing centre, The Rock House, says staff were distraught about what happened but the centre stands behind its safety procedures.

Sophie McCauley had been scaling a wall at The Rock House, Mount Maunganui, with friends to celebrate her birthday earlier this month.

She was harnessed in but cannot recall if she checked the carabiner as instructed while climbing the wall.

It is believed a piece of webbing became caught in Sophie's carabiner as she climbed a ladder on the wall and she fell 4m on to the concrete floor, breaking her hip and fracturing her foot.

Carabiners are metal loops with a sprung gate used in harnesses.

Sophie's right leg was put in a cast and doctors say she needs elevated leg rest for four months.

She has not been able to return to school since.

Her mother Debbie McCauley questioned why there were no safety mats at The Rock House when they were a common feature at children's playgrounds.

Ms McCauley said, based on her own observations on the day, in her view staff had gone through a safety briefing with the children but were busy playing games among themselves while the children climbed the walls.

"You pay for safety, so you think you'd be safe," she said.

Staff offered Sophie a chocolate bar and rock climbing voucher after the ambulance was called.

Sophie was taken to Tauranga Hospital and surgeons spent three hours inserting a thick steel screw into her broken hip.

"Doctors say it's the worst break you can have in your hip," Ms McCauley said.

Sophie suffered an avulsion fracture and breaks to three bones in her foot.

Doctors said she would likely get arthritis as a result the injury and would have to be monitored by doctors for three years, Ms McCauley said.

She called The Rock House the following day to tell them but has not heard or seen from them since.

Sophie, who played and refereed netball, said it was unlikely she would use the voucher. She half-joked she should give it to someone she didn't like.

The Rock House owner and manager Sue Hair said she was distraught at what had happened and wanted to send a fruit basket to Sophie and her mother, but was advised not to by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE), which was investigating the matter. The ministry was formerly known as the Department of Labour.

Ms Hair said Sophie's fall was the first at the centre since they took over in December and the only time they had had to call an ambulance.

The chocolate and voucher were given "because we felt sorry for her, it was her birthday", Ms Hair said.

"This has been absolutely gutting. It's so sad. I've got four daughters of my own and she has my absolute sympathy."

Ms Hair said her husband and daughter, who were not working that day, were playing air hockey at the centre and a staff member who was watching the climbers looked away for a moment. When he looked back, Sophie had fallen, Ms Hair said.

Safety procedures meant staff went through talks and harness demonstrations with every person before they climbed a wall.

Part of the training involved climbers checking their own carabiners, which had three-way locking systems in place, she said.

Ms Hair said originally the centre had mats in place but people began coming down too quickly, using the mats as landing pads.

They were removed to curb the behaviour, Ms Hair said.

"It's just awful, we would never want this to happen to anyone."

MBIE spokesman Stefan Wolf confirmed it was investigating the incident but said the ministry would not comment on the matter.

When asked how many incidents at The Rock House had been reported to MBIE, Mr Wolf said he could not answer in time for today's publication.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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