Editorial: Make SkyWalk totally secure before it can reopen

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The SkyWalk operation was not the only system to fail on Saturday. Photo / Neville Marriner
The SkyWalk operation was not the only system to fail on Saturday. Photo / Neville Marriner

SkyCity and the company that runs the SkyWalk adventure on its tower have said very little since the incident on Saturday when a disturbed man paced the platform for five hours threatening to jump. There is not much anybody can say for the organisation that allowed this to happen.

The company's director said it was reviewing its systems to see "whether there can be any improvements made to our systems to prevent such an incident from occurring in the future". There had better be improvements. The organisers must find a foolproof solution if the platform is to be reopened for these attractions.

That should not be hard.

Nobody should be able to get outside the tower for the SkyWalk or the controlled SkyJump unless they are in a safety harness they cannot remove. There is no conceivable sensible need for customers to be able to release themselves from the harness once they are on the narrow platform 192m above the street.

The precautions seem so obvious they might have been assumed to be in force. Clearly they were not. The company has absolved those on duty on Saturday of any blame. "At all times the correct safety procedures were followed by all SkyWalk staff," it said. Whoever was responsible for setting those procedures, they were not sufficient.

In the absence of foolproof safety, the near tragedy that occurred on Saturday was entirely predictable. A structure as prominent as Auckland's Sky Tower is an obvious magnet to the vulnerable mind.

The SkyWalk operation was not the only system to fail on Saturday. The man who scaled the platform's safety fence and teetered on its edge was under the care of a Hamilton mental health facility where he was a patient. The Waikato District Health Board also has some reviewing to do.

But it is primarily the responsibility of those who offer experiences of inherent danger to see that precautions are as secure as they can be. No regulations or official inspections should be necessary to ensure operators maintain this level of safety.

The risk to the operation's future should be enough.

Now, with the SkyWalk and SkyJump closed until further notice, there is a risk that excessive caution might not allow them to resume. The casino may feel it has faced enough criticism over the past year for encouraging risky behaviour in its core business of gambling.

Its proposal to provide the country's largest convention centre in return for more gaming concessions has so far succeeded only in focusing attention on problem gambling.

The last thing SkyCity needed as it entered a new year was an incident such as this on its tower, albeit involving an autonomous operation.

Its tower is the company's signature contribution to the city, never more so than at the stroke of the new year when its fireworks become the focus of Auckland's celebrations.

The fact the city should do so much more as the first in the world to see in the year is no reflection on the casino's consistent effort.

But how unfortunate that just five days after its latest display, many in the city centre should be gazing up at the Sky Tower for a different reason.

Human nature can be criticised for its curiosity in these circumstances but spectators did not sound indifferent to the man's fate.Their horror was audible when he crossed the narrow spans and teetered on the edge, and they cheered when finally he was persuaded to come in.

It need never have happened and must never happen again.

- NZ Herald

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