'Mafia jump' killed student

A university student killed after falling about 20m was performing a jump that involved three people throwing the jumper off a bridge "as hard as they could", the High Court at Palmerston North heard yesterday.

But the rope meant to secure Catherine Peters, 18, was too long and she plunged on to rocks below the Ballance Bridge in Manawatu while bridge-swinging with the Massey Alpine Club on March 7 last year. She died in hospital hours later.

Crag Adventures director Alastair Ross McWhannell, who had sole responsibility for the activity, has pleaded not guilty to manslaughter. His trial began yesterday before Justice Ronald Young and a jury.

The Crown says he failed to ensure the swing rope was set to the right length and secured to the bridge.

In his opening address, Crown prosecutor Evan McCaughan said Ms Peters was doing her second jump for the day and was trying a "mafia drop" - where she was thrown off the bridge - when she fell.

A former operator of the bridge swing, Scott Woods, appeared as the Crown's first witness.

He said that when people did their first jump they generally jumped from the platform, falling at about 70km/h, until the rope caught them and they were left swinging from the bridge.

On subsequent jumps, some tried tricks and other types of jumps, including the mafia drop. In the mafia drop, rather than jumping, the person was thrown off the bridge by a group.

"Three people lift them - at the head, the bottom and feet - and throw them, basically, as hard as they could off the bridge," Mr Woods said.

Earlier yesterday, Mr McCaughan said McWhannell had told several people after Ms Peters' fall he had "f***ed up" and had a lapse in concentration,

"He said something along the lines of: 'It's like when you're in your car and coming out of your driveway and you look left and right. Well this time I only looked left."'

But McWhannell's story was different in a subsequent police interview, Mr McCaughan said.

"He then claimed that as far as he knew he had pulled the ropes up and tied them off."

Mr McCaughan said McWhannell had supervised close to 20,000 bridge-swings before Ms Peters' fall.

His job involved two key aspects - ensuring the rope was pulled up to the correct length after each jump and tying the rope on the bridge each time.

"His job was simple. He only had to ensure two things - one at each end of the rope .. [but] if the accused didn't do his job the jumper would almost certainly die."

Mr McCaughan said that when Ms Peters went to do her second jump, McWhannell was distracted by a woman who was not related to the university group's activity.

He had met her through the internet and offered her a bridge-swing in exchange for a coffee.

He was helping her put on a harness when Ms Peters came up for a second turn.


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