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DOC investigates bridge collapse
7 September 2015

The Department of Conservation says it's confident all its visitor structures are "up to standard", despite a suspension bridge along Lake Waikaremoana Track breaking - dropping four French tourists eight metres into the water below.

The group were at the end of a multi-day tramp along Lake Waikaremoana on Thursday when a cable broke as they crossed the Hopuruahine bridge. They plunged eight metres into the river below, suffering minor cuts and bruises.

"Thank goodness no one was badly hurt," Department of Conservation deputy director-general Mike Slater said on Friday evening. "In association with our Tuhoe partners, we will be making sure that these people are being well cared for."

The suspension bridge is now the subject of a two-part DOC and Tuhoe investigation to determine why it collapsed and whether there was any indication of stress during routine maintenance. "We are awaiting the outcome of the inspectors and engineers' reports to determine what happened," Mr Slater said.

However, DOC is confident its management systems ensure all its 13,000 visitor structures are up to standard, Mr Slater said. The structures were inspected two-yearly by DOC staff, six yearly by engineers and load tested every 12 years, he said.

Prime Minister and Tourism Minister John Key and Conservation Minister Maggie Barry won't comment until the probe is complete. Labour's conservation spokeswoman Ruth Dyson said the incident was cause for alarm and it was lucky no one was badly hurt. "Our reputation cannot rely on luck," she said. "The cable failure is not only extremely concerning, it leaves New Zealand vulnerable to harmful tourism reaction. This must be sorted immediately."

The Lake Waikaremoana Track is one of New Zealand's heavily marketed nine Great Walks. The 46-kilometre tramp features views from Panekire Bluff and the Korokoro Falls. Hopuruahine bridge is closed and the walk is only to be walked in one direction from Onepoto until further notice.

In 1995, 14 people died at Cave Creek after a viewing platform collapsed. A commission of inquiry found the DOC-built platform was poorly constructed.

This prompted a safety review of DOC structures and many were repaired to bring them up to standard.

THE HOPURUAHINE BRIDGE:


- Spans 65m, 8.5m above the river


- Capacity of 10 people


- Last inspected by an engineer November 2013


- Last inspected by DOC September 2014


- One of 4000 DOC bridges.

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