25 Feb 2019

Fatal race crash leaves jet-boating community in shock

7:59 am on 25 February 2019

By Sean Nugent and David Loughrey for the Otago Daily Times

Tragedy struck the jet-boating community yesterday after a high-speed crash on the Clutha River left one person dead.

Emergency services look over the scene of a fatal jet boat crash on the Clutha River below Wanaka Airport 24 February 2019.

Emergency services look over the scene of a fatal jet boat crash on the Clutha River below Wanaka Airport yesterday afternoon. Photo: Otago Daily Times / Sean Nugent

On the second-to-last leg of the 2019 Otago Rivers Jet Boat Race on Sunday, emergency services were called after one of the boats left the river and skidded along and about 20m up the river bank.

Earlier in the day, the 20-plus strong field had raced without incident up and down the Matukituki River.

Blue strops held the boat in place on the river bank so it did not fall back in the water.

There was no obvious sign of any rocks in the water near the scene, which was at the first sharp bend in a series of bends below Wanaka Airport.

The boat was still in one piece, but it appeared to have been damaged on top.

In a statement, police later confirmed two people were involved and one had died at the scene.

The other person received moderate to serious injuries and was taken by helicopter to Dunedin Hospital.

Firefighters helped clear the area for the helicopter to land.

It was understood the people involved were the jet-boat's driver and navigator.

The Swift Water Rescue team was called to assist with the scene examination and Maritime New Zealand staff were also on their way.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission was aware of the incident but it had not yet opened an inquiry.

Police said the area where the crash happened was difficult to get to, and emergency services would take some time to establish the cause.

New Zealand Jet Boat River Racing Association spokesman Paul Mullan said the jet-boating community was "reeling" from the incident.

"This is a very difficult time for a close-knit community."

As the race was on its second-to-last leg, Mr Mullan said the rest of the race was cancelled.

He said it was not a reminder of how dangerous the sport was, as all participants already knew.

"Most motorsport has an element of danger in it. Absolutely every person involved in it understands the clear risk that is there."

Race organiser Tim Guthrie said he was working with the authorities to find out what happened.

This article first appeared in the Otago Daily Times.