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Anniversary puts authorities under pressure to conclude investigation

The investigation into the canyoning tragedy is still continuing. The justice authorities in canton Berne are trying to ascertain whether charges of involuntary manslaughter can be brought against the guides and management of Adventure World.

This content was published on July 26, 2000 - 10:28

The investigating magistrate, Martin Trapp, has spent the past year trying to clarify the sequence of events leading up to the accident to provide prosecutors with evidence they could use to lay formal charges.

Trapp is keeping tight-lipped, but the investigation is believed to be focusing on the competence of the guides. The key questions are whether they went ahead with the canyoning trip even though they knew a storm was approaching, and whether they should have been aware that the gorge was susceptible to flash floods during storms.

Trapp admits he is under pressure to conclude his inquiry, but says the sheer size of the case has slowed the process down.

The Australian consul general, Malcolm Skelly, says the victims' families have been remarkably restrained given the long investigation. They have agreed to wait for the outcome of Trapp's investigation before deciding whether to file lawsuits.

The victims' families are represented in Switzerland by a lawyer who was specially appointed to represent their interests. Skelly says the next of kin have been kept well briefed by the lawyer.

"They are very well represented in terms of their interests, and I think that has helped them to cope with this situation in the interim period, because for them it's additionally difficult because of the distance factor. They can't simply walk down the street and talk to people."

Even so, says Skelly, the Swiss authorities have taxed the families' patience by re-opening the Saxet Gorge for canyoning trips. "There was quite a deal of distress caused by that announcement. The view seemed to be that it was entirely inappropriate for this sort of activity to be going on before judge Trapp had finished his investigation."

He adds that the Swiss authorities have gone some way towards meeting the demands made by the families, including the setting up of a permanent memorial park in the area.

Trapp has given no indication about how much longer the preliminary investigation will continue, but sources say it is likely to be wrapped up within weeks.

The victims' families will then have to decide whether to file lawsuits. Eric Blindenbacher, the Swiss-appointed lawyer for families, says that, irrespective of Trapp's conclusions, legal action in some shape or form should follow.

by Dale Bechtel

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