Court criticises climbing club after accidental death of Harpenden man

A FORMER Harpenden man who slipped and plummeted about 250 metres down a mountain in New Zealand died accidentally, a second inquest has ruled.

Paul McLauchlan, aged 34, was working for CCM Architects in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city, when he died on Mount Ruapehu, one of three volcanoes in the Tongariro National Park, on August 7, 2010.

At Herts Coroner’s Court on Tuesday, Deputy Coroner Graham Danbury recorded a narrative verdict that Mr McLauchlan had died accidentally.

He referred to the ruling of an initial inquest held in New Zealand by Palmerston North Coroner Tim Scott in late July this year.

According to New Zealand newspaper reports, Mr Scott criticised the actions of a section of the New Zealand Alpine Club.

At that inquest it was explained that Mr McLauchlan was part of a group undertaking an alpine instruction course at a basic level.

After arriving at the Whakapapa ski field at about 11pm on August 6, the group walked for about two hours to their hut accommodation, going to bed at about 2am.

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They got up between 7.30am and 8am and Mr Scott said that having such little sleep was unwise and potentially dangerous. Witnesses at the initial inquest conceded there was a slipping hazard on the mountain.

The coroner also criticised the competitive attitude of the group, who referred to themselves as the “A Team”, which fostered competition despite there being inexperienced climbers present.

Mr McLauchlan paired with another man on a slope, securing themselves to it by hammering in a snow stake and an ice screw, but their rope became tangled.

When they failed to untangle it, Mr McLauchlan decided to unclip himself so he could access a more level area to untie the knot.

But his crampons became locked together and he slid over a large rock, falling and landing on a frozen creek bed. He died soon after being found unconscious with major head injuries.

The New Zealand inquest heard that it was too dangerous for such activity in that area.

Mr McLauchlan’s body was brought back to the UK, with the funeral held at West Herts Crematorium in Garston on August 24, 2010, which prompted the second inquest despite him dying abroad.

Among the tributes to him was one marking the one-year anniversary of his death, posted by CCM Architects’ director Adam Flowers, on August 7 last year.

Explaining that Mr McLauchlan had moved to New Zealand in 2008, Mr Flowers described him as a friend.

During his short time in New Zealand, Mr McLauchlan discovered a love of trekking, diving and climbing, making the most of the country’s outdoor lifestyle. A bronze plaque has since been installed in his memory.

In a recent press release, the New Zealand Alpine Club said it “accepted” Mr Scott’s findings.

The club’s president, Stu Gray, said the tragic death had been a catalyst for a “period of analysis”.

While the statement said the club’s thoughts were with Mr McLauchlan’s family and friends, it did not apologise for the tragedy.