An investigation is underway into a swing bridge collapse on the Lake Waikaremoana Track, sending four tourists plunging into the water below.
The German nationals escaped the eight-metre drop with minor cuts and bruises. They were at the end of their multi-day tramp along Lake Waikaremoana yesterday afternoon when they reached the Hopuruahine swing bridge, which is near the track's start and finish point. A cable broke as the group crossed the bridge. "We do regular checks and inspections and these things are unplanned and they do occur," Te Urewera Board chairman Tamati Kruger told RadioLIVE.
"This is a serious matter for the Te Urewera Board, and we do not like to see harm come to visitors that are in Te Urewera so we have made sure our priority has been to look after the health and safety of those visitors, those trampers, then tend to investigating what has happened with that bridge."
A response team of 10 people has been deployed to the scene to locate other trampers and inform them the bridge is closed. "We're picking up other walkers and transporting them directly across the lake to the camping ground," says Mr Kruger.
A senior engineer has also been sent to examine the bridge to find out exactly why it collapsed. A spokeswoman for Prime Minister John Key, who is also Tourism Minister, said it would inappropriate for him to comment while the matter was being investigated. Conservation Minister Maggie Barry said she would await the outcome of the probe before commenting. "DOC take visitor safety very seriously and the department's chief engineer is urgently investigating to find out exactly how this happened," she said.But Labour's conservation spokeswoman Ruth Dyson said incident was cause for alarm and it was fortunate no one was badly hurt.
"This is good luck not good management. Our reputation cannot rely on luck. "The cable failure is not only extremely concerning, it leaves New Zealand vulnerable to harmful tourism reaction. This must be sorted immediately," she said.
"It's like anything else, isn't it, that we do our best with the equipment we have and the assets we have," says Mr Kruger. The four trampers have been offered food, accommodation and counselling, says Mr Kruger.
The Lake Waikaremoana Track is one of New Zealand's heavily marketed nine Great Walks. The 46-kilometre tramp takes between three and four days to complete and features views from Panekire Bluff along with the Korokoro Falls.
The park is jointly run by DOC and Tuhoe and is still open to the public. In 1995 the Cave Creek disaster claimed the lives of 14 people after a viewing platform collapsed and plunged 30 metres into a ravine.
A commission of inquiry found the DOC-built platform had no building consent, no qualified engineers were involved in its design or construction and nails were used instead of bolts to secure the platform because a drill hadn't been taken to the site. It prompted a safety review of DOC structures and many were repaired to bring them up to standard.