2 Dec 2010

Coroner recommends restricted access to glaciers

9:21 pm on 2 December 2010

The father of two Australian tourists killed by a massive piece of ice at a New Zealand glacier is satisfied with a coroner's recommendation that access should be restricted.

Coroner Richard McElrea is calling for a by-law to stop people getting too close to the face of glaciers on the West Coast after brothers Ashish and Akshay Miranda died in January 2009.

Ashish, 24, and Akshay, 22, ignored warning signs and crossed safety ropes to get close to the face of Fox Glacier when it collapsed, burying them in tonnes of ice.

Mr McElrea says what happened was an unthinkable tragedy.

In findings issued this week, he called on Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson to create a by-law stopping untrained people from getting too close to the terminal face and authorising fines for those who ignore the law.

Mr McElrea also recommended that limited access would be allowed in the presence of a guide, or when authorised by a park ranger.

The coroner said these rules could also apply to Franz Josef Glacier, also on the West Coast.

The father of the men killed, Ronald Miranda, says the signs were not enough to warn his sons about the danger and believes Fox Glacier should be fenced off entirely.

"It's an extremely unstable face - not just the glacier face, but even the valley where you can have flash floods and rockfalls.

"To have people walking there casually without guides or with guides is very, very dangerous ... when there are uncertainties in such places they should not freely be accessible."

Changes made at glacier

The Department of Conservation is happy with the outcome of the inquest but spokesperson Rory Newsam says any call for a new by-law would first have to be discussed with the minister.

However, Mr Newsam says DoC has carried out two reviews since the tragedy and made changes to the signs, their colour and placement at Fox Glacier.

DoC has also been woking with the guiding and tourism operators in the area "to ensure there's a much better visitor awareness of the hazards of the valley before people have even come into the valley."

But the findings have caused concern for the Federated Mountain Clubs. President Richard Davies says any call to restrict open access to national park land land will set a dangerous precedent.

Mr Davies says fencing off dangerous areas does not work and education and better signs are what is need.

The club says it will oppose any recommendation to pass a by-law.

DoC will have a ranger based at the Fox Glacier viewing area this summer to warn people of the danger.