‘Lessons to be learned’ from Wellington woman’s death while trekking with New Zealand company in India, by coroner’s rules
Failure to make the critical decision to descend when a Wellington woman fell ill with severe altitude sickness in the Himalayas contributed to her death, a coroner has determined.
A ruling last month by Coroner Peter Ryan following an inquest into the death of Janet “Jan” Nye in the Ladakh region of India in October 2018 identified several other factors implicating the group’s leader and organizers. the hike that potentially contributed to his death.
The 68-year-old Lower Hutt nurse and tramp enthusiast died of high altitude pulmonary edema (OPHA), the most severe form of altitude sickness, on the 12th day of the trek, organized by the now defunct Federated Mountain Club of New Zealand (FMC) travel club.
Another member of the group spent two hours trying to resuscitate Nye, after she collapsed and fell unconscious a few hundred yards from the camp on October 6, 15 days after the group flew to Ladakh.
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The 12 trampers were led by experienced New Zealand climber Joe Nawalaniec, and Ali Khan, a guide with the Indian company Hayan Himalaya, pledged to provide services for the trek.
In his ruling, Ryan said he did not have jurisdiction to call witnesses from the foreign company, that there was a “significant gap” in the information about Nye’s death because Hayan Himalaya did not responded to requests for information.
He determined that the failure of Nye’s descent to a lower altitude in the two days before his death contributed to this.
In the days leading up to her death, Nye’s health deteriorated and she showed signs of gastroenteritis, shortness of breath and weakness to the point that she was unable to walk and had to be carried on a horse. .
Nawalaniec told group members that Nye’s condition was due to his lack of fitness and slow acclimatization, and that he was provided with medication and oxygen.
During the April inquiry, Nawalaniec was criticized by other travelers for his role in the tragedy, after arguing that Hayan Himalayan, as paid local guides, was in charge once the two-trek trip began. .
This view was disputed by members of the trip, who testified that Nawalaniec had shown poor leadership and ignored warnings about Nye’s health.
Nawalaniec agreed that the window to take Nye down from the mountain had been missed.
Hiker Roger Young said when asked a few days later how the death happened, Nawalaniec told the group it was Nye’s fault.
“’She made bad decisions, and they cost her her life. His response grieved us terribly, ”Young said.
In his decision, Ryan identified several other factors that may have contributed to Nye’s death, including a lack of medical training from Nawalaniec and other members of the group, which hampered their ability to recognize his early symptoms, and the route of the trip too high, too fast, not allowing good acclimatization.
There was also a lack of contingency plans in place for an emergency by the travel club, which did not assess the fitness of group members, he said.
A “significant divergence” in expectations of Nawalaniec’s role as leader by the group and Nawalaniec himself, led to tensions between the parties as Nye’s condition worsened.
“The confusion over the roles and responsibilities of the tour leader and guide resulted in a lack of decisive action around October 4 and 5 when it was possible to get Ms. Nye down the mountain,” Ryan said. .
While there is no certainty that Nye would have survived even if the decision had been made, it would have improved his chances of survival and therefore “was a prudent course of action,” Ryan said.
An expert witness at the inquest, Geoff Wayatt, determined that bad decisions were made by all parties involved, including Nye herself.
Ryan’s decisions did not provide any recommendations, saying he didn’t think they would be helpful, as FMC had already done their own review of the trip, with recommendations, which he endorsed.
FMC’s review concluded that their travel club needed to conduct fitness assessments of trip members and that the trip manager had to perform risk assessments and prepare an adequate plan.
The roles and responsibilities of the tour manager, travel club organizer and local guides need to be clearly explained to participants and to each other, the review found.
He also determined that it was necessary to hire someone with experience in wild and highland medicine to develop specific policies, including the treatment and prevention of altitude sickness for the tour manager, and that the club did not would offer more trips to Nepal or Ladakh, India.
“Therefore, any recommendation for trips to Ladakh organized by the travel club would make no sense,” Ryan said.
“There are lessons to be learned from the tragic outcome of the 2018 Ladakh trip. Factors that contributed or may have contributed to Ms. Nye’s death should be noted by any organization organizing a trip involving high altitude trampling. .
Nye’s husband Robert Joiner, who was not in India, said his 34-year-old wife might be ‘stubborn’ but that she would have listened to the advice of a travel chef if he had said that ‘it was dangerous for her to continue.
Joiner said he was happy his request for an investigation was granted, but was disappointed that no recommendation was made by the coroner.
“Because I think the public’s attention could have been drawn to the importance, when people consider an adventure trip with a New Zealand operator, that there is an understanding of all parties involved in the journey. organization of a trip, who are responsible for making critical decisions and for planning risks and contingencies.
“If that can prevent another case like this from happening again, then we would have got something,” he said.
Nawalaniec pointed to Wayatt’s comments that bad decision-making was made by all parties, including Nye herself.
“Despite the recommendations of the experienced high altitude commercial trek operator not to participate in the second trek, she inexplicably chose to ignore this advice and instead made a number of poor personal decisions before and during it. trek which cumulatively contributed to his death. “
FMC President Jan Finlayson said she felt great sadness over the loss of Nye.
“The coronal inquest confirmed the conclusions and recommendations of the review of the federated mountain clubs of the travel club, carried out earlier. The travel club no longer exists, but had it continued, those recommendations would have been put in place, ”she said.