"We acted correctly" say canyoning guides

This memorial in Saxetbach in Wilderswil, Switzerland commemorates the accident Keystone Archive

Two of the canyoning guides on trial in Interlaken say they acted correctly during events leading up to the accident in 1999 that killed 21 people.

This content was published on December 5, 2001 - 16:02

The two guides, Simon Wiget and Stefan Abegglen, were responsible for one of the four groups which took part in the fateful canyoning trip on July 27,1999. Eight of the 11 tourists in their group lost their lives in a wall of water.

Wiget rejected statements by a survivor who said he and Abegglen had told their group, in English, shortly after they entered the gorge that the "water was rising and extremely quickly."

Abegglen, less confident on the stand, said he could not remember the event, but did admit that the guides were in agreement that they had to move the groups as quickly as possible through the narrower parts of the gorge because of the rising water.

Water issue

French-speaking Wiget also challenged a statement he made to the police shortly after the accident that the water had changed to a "chocolate" brown. He said the translation was inaccurate, telling the court the water had become slightly muddy, but was still transparent.

Both men are charged with having an inadequate knowledge of meteorology, entering the gorge during a thunderstorm and failing to leave the gorge when the water began to rise.

Both men defended their actions, saying they acted correctly, and, like the defendants before them, claimed the wall of water that swept the 21 people to their deaths could not have been foreseen and was unavoidable.

Wiget described his training by Adventure World, the company involved in the accident, as very good, and at least as good as that offered by any other outfit or organisation in Switzerland. In some aspects, he said, it was even better.

Possible storm clouds

It was Wiget's third trip as guide in the Saxet Brook that day, and the weather conditions ahead of the trip were the same as for the previous two. He admitted that the type of clouds forming over the area at the time could lead to a short-lived storm, but not serious enough to cause a cancellation of the expedition.

Under cross-examination from the prosecution, Wiget and Abegglen said they were unaware of the weather conditions in the Saxet Brook catchment area at the time, but downplayed any effect this may have had on the canyoning expedition.

They repeated statements made the previous day by Adventure World's managers and lead guides that they followed all the necessary precautions; checking the water level, which Wiget said was extremely low, the colour of the water and the rate of the water's rise.

The first witnesses will take the stand on Thursday.

Analysts following the trial say the outcome could depend on statements made by any experts called to the stand on whether the safety precautions taken by Adventure World were sufficient.

by Dale Bechtel in Interlaken

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