Cherie Howie

Cherie Howie is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Sky Tower viewing platform remain closed after jump threat

A man is spoken to by police on the 54th floor of Auckland's Sky Tower. Photo / Michael Craig
A man is spoken to by police on the 54th floor of Auckland's Sky Tower. Photo / Michael Craig

The Sky Tower's popular viewing platform and jump remain closed above Auckland today while the company that runs the tourist attraction investigates how a man managed to scale a safety fence and threaten to jump from the 54th storey.

An investigation has also been launched as to how the man was able to leave Waikato District Health Board's mental health centre in the hours before he signed up for the organised 3pm SkyWalk.

Onlookers on closed streets surrounding the landmark were stunned yesterday when the man walked around the viewing platform without safety restraints.

He spent almost five hours refusing to co-operate with Sky Tower staff and police negotiators, before a priest managed to talk him down shortly before 8pm.

Sky Jump and Sky Walk director Steve Weidmann said today that the company was reviewing its "systems'' with the hope of making it impossible for a repeat of the scenario on the major Auckland tourist attraction.

It remains closed until that investigation is completed, he said.

A spokeswoman for the Waikato DHB said an internal investigation had been launched as to how the man came to leave the Henry Rongomau Bennett Centre, a 108-bed mental health facility where he was a patient, before he ascended the tower.

The man has since returned for treatment at the DHB's mental health and addictions services.

It is unclear whether he will face criminal charges or if there will an investigation by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment into any possible breaches of workplace health and safety.

Mr Weidmann defended the company's operations, saying "at all times the correct safety procedures were followed by all SkyWalk staff''.

"Management are pleased with the safe outcome of the situation with no harm to the man or any customers and staff,'' he said.

"SkyWalk is currently closed while a full review of the incident is conducted.

"This will include reviewing whether there can be any improvements made to our systems to prevent such an incident from occurring in the future.''

Mr Weidmann said the SkyWalk was independently operated from Sky City Entertainment Group.

Hundreds, some with children, gathered below the 328-metre tower yesterday - eyes, cameras and phones pointed skyward - as the drama unfolded.

The man is thought to have removed his harness and threatened to jump from the 192m-high outer rim. He alternately paced, swung his legs over the edge and shouted at those below.

Many gasped audibly when he repeatedly crossed the spans between the outer 1.2m wide rim and the tower.

His actions added to a surreal scene punctuated by the laughter of bar patrons enjoying a warm summer evening and young girls squealing with delight as they were tossed into the air on a nearby bungy ride.

Wiltshire Apartment resident Kai Hau joined those waiting on Victoria St, which was closed between Albert and Hobson Sts for the duration of the incident.

He couldn't reach his apartment, but - like many others - couldn't help but watch the man.

"I don't think anyone would want to see the worst.''

Dutch tourist Marija Westra was inside the tower when the drama began and was told by staff she could not go to the top viewing area because of a "medical problem".

She went to the viewing area just below but was evacuated about half an hour later, along with those in the tower's revolving restaurant. The casino remained open.

Westra and others were taken out of the complex through a rear entrance, she said.

The man's actions disrupted central city services. Several streets were cordoned off, buses were diverted and shops emptied.

When the man finally went back into the tower there was spontaneous applause from crowds watching from below.

John Hall, 22, from West Harbour, Auckland, watched the drama unfold for two hours.

"Thank God it is over,'' he said, as police reopened the road. "I was there for a while but I couldn't have watched if the guy had actually jumped.''

Another onlooker, Angela Lamont, 35, from Balmoral, Auckland, said: "I'm glad it finished the way it did. The man must be pretty ill.''

As well as three police negotiators, the man had asked to speak to a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses and a Catholic priest.

His Auckland-based wife had also been taken to the top of the tower to speak to the man, the police officer said.

- APNZ

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