Police divers attend the scene at Hanging Rock Falls waterhole where a man went missing. Photo Marc Stapelberg / The Northern Star
Police divers attend the scene at Hanging Rock Falls waterhole where a man went missing. Photo Marc Stapelberg / The Northern Star Marc Stapelberg

WATERHOLE TRAGEDY: 'How was ... rope allowed to stay there?'

THE devastated father of a teenager killed after falling from a notorious swinging rope at Wadeville's Hanging Rock Falls is taking the NSW Government to court over the tragic death.

Louis Vanderstappen, 19, died on December 30, 2014, when swinging from a rope tied to a nearby tree.

Unfortunately his foot became tangled, causing him to hit a rock before falling into the Wadeville water hole below and subsequently drowning.

His was the third death at the falls in the 10 years prior with at least another five people suffering serious injuries during that period.

Queensland teen Mackenzie Chase Mello, 14, tragically died in October 2010 when he slipped off the vertical cliff while trying to access the swimming rope.

 

Northern Star tearsheet for Hanging Rock Falls near Nimbin
Northern Star tearsheet for Hanging Rock Falls near Nimbin

And in 2003, a Canadian tourist drowned after becoming trapped under a submerged ledge.

The rope was removed after Louis' death - but his father Michel Vanderstappen said the department should have removed the rope after the first serious injury at the site.

"How was that rope allowed to stay there after two other people had lost their lives?" Mr Vanderstappen said.

"An appropriate management plan that should be regularly updated and executed would have shown that removing that rope was a necessity.

"It really is a no-brainer.

"It's just not good enough and I believe the public need to be aware of this shocking mismanagement, which has forever affected our family.

High profile law firm Slater and Gordon has taken on the case on behalf of Mr Vanderstappen.

Slater and Gordon lawyer Melinda Griffiths said the claim was well justified by the fact there had been multiple deaths at the site and it was "well promoted" to visitors.

"After numerous injuries and deaths that nothing was done to make the area safer, leads to the (conclusion) that something could have been done which would have prevented this death," Ms Griffths said.

 

Sergeant Mick Dempsey gives a press conference after the body of Mackenzie Mello was found at Hanging Rock Falls. Mackenzie died after falling from rocks into the water and failed to resurface. 31/10/10. CATHY ADAMS/ THE NORTHERN STAR
Sergeant Mick Dempsey gives a press conference after the body of Mackenzie Mello was found at Hanging Rock Falls. Mackenzie died after falling from rocks into the water and failed to resurface. 31/10/10. CATHY ADAMS/ THE NORTHERN STAR CATHY ADAMS

"It would have been extremely easy for that rope to be removed, but it was just left there and remain removed if a regular site-verification had been done according to their management plan.

"You would think that after one injury - let alone one death - something would be done to make the area safer."

Slater and Gordon lodged a statement of claim in the District Court in December.

It claims the Department was negligent in a number of areas, including failing to conduct regular inspections of the site, and failing to implement measures such as removing the swing rope, installing a barrier to prevent entry to the raised cliff area, and install warning signs.

Ms Griffiths said Michel Vanderstappen. had suffered from extensive psychological trauma as a result of the tragedy, which had impacted his ability to work.

"He's actually now moved overseas... he cannot deal with being in Australia because of that reason."

Located just inside the border of Kyogle Council, the falls were formally gazetted as a public recreation reserve in 2007.

According to the Royal Life Saving National 2015-16 Drowning Report, a total of 21 per cent (58) of the 280 deaths were in rivers, creeks and streams, while 57 per cent (160) drowned while swimming or recreating. The number of people who died as a result of falls into water was 14 per cent (34).

The report also highlighted that New South Wales recorded the highest number of drownings with 34 per cent (96).


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