Thirteen students from Tai Poutini Polytechnic and one DOC staff member died when a platform they were standing on collapsed into a chasm at Cave Creek in Paparoa National Park on 28 April 1995. Four other students who were on the viewing platform survived the 30-metre fall.
Those who died were: students Catherine McCarthy, Abram Larmour, De‐Anne Reid, Paul Chisholm, Scott Murray, Alison Blackman, Anne‐Marie Cook, Jody Davis, Peter Shaw, Barry Hobson, Matthew Reed, Kit Pawsey, Evan Stuart; and DOC Punakaiki Field Centre Manager Stephen O’Dea.
DOC Director-General Lou Sanson says it was a failure of DOC systems and processes that led to the platform collapse, but twenty-five years later the legacy of those who lost their lives endures.
“It’s important we take time tomorrow to remember and reflect on the terrible tragedy of Cave Creek and ensure as a Department and a nation we never forget the lessons learnt.
“I still vividly remember hearing the horrific news that a group of students and a DOC ranger had met such a tragic end on a DOC education trip. It took months for the enormity of the tragedy to sink in across the country as we discovered what had led to the loss of 14 young people, through the Cave Creek Commission of Inquiry.
“This horrendous event led to a massive overhaul in how DOC manages its visitor assets. There were also major improvements in health and safety requirements for government agencies throughout New Zealand.”
DOC has since implemented a number of leadership systems, processes and health and safety protocols to ensure the safety of our visitors, staff, contractors and volunteers including:
- Single Point Accountability – no job starts without a team leader and someone is accountable for every decision we make.
- Systems Leadership – to ensure the findings of the Cave Creek inquiry were embedded across the entire organisation in our suite of systems (capital management, people management, biodiversity, visitor management) with good system controls.
Twenty-five years later, Lou Sanson says the safety of visitors, staff, contractors and volunteers is a key priority for the Department.
“I believe the work DOC did following the tragedy to regain the respect of the public, and most importantly to acknowledge the intense grief of our Cave Creek families, as some of the best mahi this organisation has ever done.
“Cave Creek changed DOC’s approach to health and safety. Systems have been put in place so all facilities managed by DOC are built well and receive an appropriate level of engineering, compliance and maintenance.
“As Director-General it’s a personal priority of mine that we continue to build and strengthen a culture that puts health, safety and wellbeing first.
“At 11.25am, DOC staff around the country will stop work to reflect on why this tragedy happened and how we can collectively make sure such an accident can never happen again.”
Cave Creek families spokesperson Virginia Pawsey says twenty-five years after the tragedy, DOC is once again a respected and trusted organisation.
“Visitors can walk onto park structures and cross bridges in the knowledge they are safe. The families thank DOC for the way it builds its structures today. Strong safe structures are Cave Creeks Legacy.”
An event to commemorate the anniversary for the families and DOC has been postponed due to COVID-19 restrictions. Once rescheduled, a new interpretation panel will be unveiled at the entrance to the Cave Creek walk, telling the story of the tragedy and the lessons learnt.