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Judge hands down guilty verdict in Canyoning trial

The victims' relatives waited more than two years for the defendants to be brought to trial swissinfo.ch

Six directors and employees of the defunct Adventure World company have been found guilty of negligent manslaughter for the deaths of 18 tourists and three guides in an Alpine flash flood.

This content was published on December 11, 2001 - 20:18

Judge Thomas Zbinden, who presided without a jury during the seven-day trial watched by victims' relatives from Australia, Britain and South Africa, found them guilty of allowing a canyoning trip to go ahead in spite of a storm breaking over the area.

He said the three directors of the board of Adventure World - Stephan Friedli, Peter Balmer and Georg Hoedle - were guilty because they had not taken all the potential risks into account and had not banned canyoning during storms.

The three came in for particular blame because they were ultimately responsible for failing to have included a clause on weather conditions in the company's safety guidelines, Judge Zbinden said.

He also handed down guilty verdicts against the lead guide, the manager of the company and his deputy. The other two guides were acquitted.

Sentences

Each of the three board members received suspended sentences of five months as well as fines of SFr7,500.

The firm's manager was also sentenced to five months suspended, but received a smaller fine of SFr5,000; his deputy got four months, and a SFr4,000 fine.

The lead guide was given three months, and a SFr4,000 fine.

The prosecutor, Hanspeter Schürch, had asked for suspended sentences of between five and 10 months and fines of up to SFr10,000 ($6,000) for the defendants.

The eight associates of the former tour operator Adventure World were charged with manslaughter through culpable negligence for the deaths in the swollen Saxet Brook above Interlaken on July 27, 1999.

They were accused of leading the vacationers - aged 19 to 31 - into a river gorge even though a thunderstorm was breaking overhead. The tourists were swept away by a muddy wall of water described by one survivor as being "as high as the canyon".

Defendants denied charges

All the defendants denied the charges. They testified that the flash flood was entirely unforeseeable.

"Safety is, and remains, the most important thing for a company like Adventure World," said Zbinden. The responsibility for this lies with the board of directors, and so it did in 1999."

But he stressed in his closing remarks that those found guilty were not criminals, and also took into account the fact that they had played an active role in the search and rescue operation following the accident, and were very co-operative during the police investigation.

And Zbinden asked the defendants from Adventure World to apologise to the victims' relatives.

Speaking after the verdict, the relatives said they were satisfied with the verdict, but said they were disappointed that canyoning had still not been banned from the Saxet Brook.

by Dale Bechtel with agencies

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