TAIC report – alcohol impaired driver in fatal jet boat accident

4 Jun 2020
Image shows river layout and course of boat
The river layout and course of the boat. Image from the report.

Alcohol impaired the abilities of a recreational jet boat driver and led to a fatal accident on a remote river in Fiordland, says the Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC).

One passenger was fatally injured, and two others seriously injured in the accident on Hollyford River in Fiordland National Park on 18 March 2019. 

The boat with four people on board was travelling at 35 to 50 kph in fading evening light when it hit a rock in a shallow channel. The driver lost control and the boat skidded along gravel and came to rest on a gravel bar in the middle of the river. 

The Chief investigator of Accidents, Aaron Holman, says the accident was made more likely by a combination of insufficient planning; insufficient daylight; and too much speed and alcohol. 

"The Commission’s long-standing advice is that people in safety-critical roles should not be impaired by alcohol or drugs; it’s a TAIC Watchlist item and the subject of numerous previous recommendations

"The driver's blood alcohol concentration was about three times New Zealand's legal limit for driving a car.

"The Commission found it was virtually certain that the accident happened because alcohol consumption impaired the driver’s ability to make good decisions and to operate the jet boat safely.

"The jet boat's speed meant the driver had less time to make good driving decisions, and in the flat lighting conditions, rocks and other risk features were hard to see, further affecting the driver's ability to set a safe course.

"All of this, and there was insufficient planning. In unfavourable environmental conditions, skippers need to plan their trip thoroughly, drive to the conditions, and recognise the limits of their ability." 

In recommendations, TAIC is calling for Maritime New Zealand to improve its fatal accident database about accidents and incidents involving alcohol impairment. It is also renewing its call for legislation to prohibit people in safety-critical roles being impaired by alcohol or drugs.