Northland business ordered to pay nearly $400,000 after death of tourist while sand boarding

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Te Paki sand dunes at Cape Rēinga are a popular spot for sand boarding (file picture).

A Northland company has been ordered to pay almost $400,000 after the death of a Korean tourist in a “horrific” sand boarding incident.

Jin Chang Oh, a 68-year-old from South Korea, was holidaying in the Far North in 2019 when his family booked a beach tour to Cape Rēinga.

The trip, with Kaitāia business Sand Safaris, included sand boarding on the famous Te Paki dunes but ended in tragedy when he slid into the path of a moving bus.

His death was witnessed by his wife, son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter.

The company denied a charge laid under the Health and Safety at Work Act of exposing an individual to a risk of death of serious injury, but was found guilty after a trial late last year.

Now Sand Safaris has been ordered to pay a fine of $200,000 and reparations of just over $180,000 to the victim’s family.

The sentencing took place in the Whangārei District Court on Monday, with Judge Philip Rzepecky saying the company had overlooked “a clearly identifiable hazard”.

During the trial the company said Oh had been told not to go down that particular dune and appeared to understand, but when the worker turned around to attend to someone else Oh launched himself down the slope.

He was hit by the rear wheels of a tour bus travelling down Te Paki Stream at the bottom of the dune.

Judge Rzepecky, however, said Oh was “not at all” to blame for what had happened.

WorkSafe area investigation manager Danielle Henry described the sand boarding incident as “horrific”.

“Allowing high-speed leisure activities to take place in such close proximity to moving vehicles without tightly managing the risks is asking for trouble,” she said.

Sand Safaris should have learned from an incident at the same location three years earlier, in which a boy sand boarding with another company was run over and seriously injured.

“Operators not only have a responsibility for their workers, but also their customers, and must not lose sight of that. While we want thrill-seekers to enjoy themselves, it’s critical that risks are not overlooked and businesses do what they can to keep people safe,” Henry said.

The WorkSafe investigation found the company had not effectively identified and controlled the risks of sand boarding, had failed to keep riders safe from vehicles, and did not have an effective traffic management system in place.

Judge Rzepecky found the company was liable for a fine of $480,000 but reduced it to $200,000 after taking into account factors such as reparation, its previous clean health and safety record, and ability to pay.

A message on the Sand Safaris website states the company has permanently ceased offering beach tours, although that is understood to be more related to the Covid-era tourism downturn than the WorkSafe prosecution.

The owner has been contacted for comment.

The Te Paki Dunes are just south of Cape Rēinga near the northern end of Te Oneroa-a-Tohē/Ninety Mile Beach. At up to 150m high, they are among the biggest dunes in New Zealand.

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