28 Apr 2015

Cave Creek tragedy marked 20 years on

11:47 am on 28 April 2015

Commemorations are taking place today to mark 20 years since the Cave Creek disaster that claimed 14 lives.

Thirteen Tai Poutini Polytechnic outdoor recreation students and a Department of Conservation officer died when a DoC viewing platform collapsed into a ravine in the Cave Creek area near Punakaiki on the West Coast on 28 April 1995. Four students survived the 30-metre fall.

The Cave Creek memorial

The Cave Creek memorial Photo: photo supplied by DOC

Today a memorial service marking the 20 years will be held at the Cave Creek Memorial Garden, at Tai Poutini Polytechnic's Greymouth campus, Radio New Zealand reports.

Survivors, the victims' families, and officials including DOC director-general Lou Sanson and Graeme McNally, chair of Tai Poutini Polytechnic, are expected to attend.

In an inquiry into the disaster, Judge Graeme Noble identified faults in the Department's structure following reforms and funding cuts.

Judge Noble found the platform had not been built with sound building practice, there were no building plans or specifications drawn up or looked over by an engineer, and the work had been carried out by DoC workers, not tradespeople or carpenters.

No consent was applied for the structure before it was built. Instead, the department applied for a retrospective consent, and that was declined.

Judge Noble said the platform was never formally inspected, either during or after construction, and even if it had been inspected afterwards, it was unlikely that its fundamental flaws would have been revealed. One of these was that it was held together with nails, not bolts.

There were no warning signs for the platform indicating how many people could go on it at one time. A sign limiting numbers on the platform to five people had been ordered, and was even delivered to the Punakaiki field centre in January 1995, three months before the collapse.

But while the relevant officer was on holiday all the signs were tidied up and taken away. When he got back, the pressure of work, including acting as Field Centre manager, meant he overlooked the sign.

A wreath and flowers are to be laid by families and officials today, followed by speeches and a reading of the names of the victims will be read, followed by a minute's silence, and messages from victims' families, readings, songs, and a prayer.

Families are expected to visit the site in the afternoon and have requested privacy.