Jetboat rides end with broken backs

By Edward Gay

An Auckland woman and her best friend Amanda Lee suffered similar injuries during a trip to the Hole In The Rock on the Excitor III in January last year. File photo / Jodi Fraser
An Auckland woman and her best friend Amanda Lee suffered similar injuries during a trip to the Hole In The Rock on the Excitor III in January last year. File photo / Jodi Fraser

A woman says she was lucky not to be paralysed after suffering a broken back on a holiday jetboat trip in the Bay of Islands.

Auckland resident Petula Patey and her best friend Amanda Lee suffered similar injuries during a trip to the Hole In The Rock on the Excitor III in January last year.

The InterCity Group (ICG), which owns the boat, appeared before the Auckland District Court today after earlier pleading guilty to two charges of failing to take all practical steps to ensure their employees' actions did not harm anyone.

The second charge relates to an incident two months later that left Brisbane health worker Jan Phillps with broken vertebrae.

In her victim impact statement read to the court, Mrs Patey said she was told to sit in the back of the boat before it hit two big waves. Mrs Patey said she became airborne on both occasions and suffered a piercing pain in her back.

"The pain was like nothing I had experienced before."

She said other passengers were screaming at the skipper to stop the boat.

Her back was broken and a later MRI scan showed she was lucky not to be paralysed.

She spent the next four months lying in bed or on a sofa and has been told she is likely to suffer pain for the rest of her life.

Mrs Lee, who was visiting from London for the wedding of Mrs Patey's daughter, said her back was broken too.

Her victim impact statement said the incident ruined her holiday.

"The trauma and emotional toll taken on me has been devastating."

Maritime New Zealand prosecutor Alysha McClintock said the authority was seeking a fine of between $70,000 and $80,000 for the first incident and one of between $100,000 and $120,000 for the second.

She told the court one of the company's skippers had raised concerns about the Excitor III before the January incident.

"So, it is clear that a safety issue was brought to the company's attention and nothing was done about it."

Ms McClintock quoted from the skipper's evidence which said: "I brought it up, nothing happened and someone got hurt."

In Ms Phillips' statement, also read to the court, she said that when she took the boat ride, she had every reason to believe it was safe.

"It seems the company had every opportunity to rectify previous safety problems on this boat and did not do so, choosing to risk major harm to customers like myself for profit."

InterCity Group lawyer Rob Latton said that was "not the case at all".

Mr Latton said the skipper also commented that he did not think his concerns were serious enough to stop the operation of the boat.

He said his client had trained their staff but that some "may not have driven to the conditions".

The company developed a code of conduct and after the first incident removed seating from the back of the vessel and imposed speed restrictions.

The company last Thursday apologised to the victims and paid $33,000 in reparations to Ms Lee and Ms Phillips. Mrs Patey was paid $44,000.

Judge Phil Gittos will deliver his sentence next month.

- APNZ

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