Prosecution demands harshest penalties in Canyoning trial

People arriving at the court in Interlaken on Monday

The prosecutor in the Canyoning trial in Interlaken has demanded suspended sentences up to ten months for the eight defendants.

This content was published on December 10, 2001 minutes

The cantonal prosecutor, Hanspeter Schürch, asked on Monday for the harshest penalties - 10 month suspended sentences and fines of SFr10,000 - to be handed down to the three members of the board of Adventure World.

They are charged with manslaughter through culpable negligence in the deaths of 21 people in a Canyoning accident in 1999.

Foreign tourists and their guides were swept away by a flash flood in the Saxet Brook, unleashed by a thunderstorm in the stream's catchment area.

The other managers and two of the surviving guides face suspended sentences of between five and eight months and fines of between SFr1,000 and SFr7,500.

Cutting corners

In a four-hour address to the court, Schürch said the three businessmen had been unable to keep up with the rapid growth of their company, and had cut corners when trying to restructure the firm to cope with demand.

There were no written safety guidelines, and no clear hierarchy at the guide level, the prosecutor said. Inexperienced guides were hired - most of those who lead the trip on July 27, 1999 were working their first season - and were given no training or instruction concerning the weather.

At the same time the guides were under pressure to go ahead with as many trips as possible because they were paid per tour. Yet they were given the ultimate responsibility of deciding whether to go ahead or cancel.

The managers were aware of the natural dangers inherent on Canyoning trips, including flash flooding, but failed to take weather conditions properly into account.

Schürch repeated testimony given by the defendants themselves to show that the managers did not consult precise and up-to-date weather reports, which would have shown that a storm was breaking over the area before the trip went ahead.

He also referred the court to testimony and statements given by experts who said the Saxet Brook was known to experience sudden flooding.

The prosecutor added that on the same day that the disaster took place, a competitor of Adventure World cancelled trips to the Saxet Brook because of the storm.

by Dale Bechtel in Interlaken

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