© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2020

25 years ago today a viewing platform in Paparoa National Park collapsed killing 14 people

Tia McDougall
Cave Creek
Cave Creek, where the victims were found  Shellie Evans 2015

Thirteen students from Tai Poutini Polytechnic and one DOC staff member died when a the viewing platform collapsed into a chasm. Other students who were on the viewing platform survived the 30m drop.

Following the 1995 tragedy, a commission of inquiry heard evidence into the cause of the incident. It found the platform was poorly built by unqualified staff, leading to stricter safety measures at Department of Conservation (DOC) sites. 

At the time, law prevented DOC from being sued or being held criminally liable. 

The students that died were all members of Tai Poutini Polytech's outdoor recreation course. Most lived at the polytech's hostel in Greymouth.

DOC Director-General Lou Sanson said it was a failure of DOC systems.

“It’s important we take time to remember and reflect on the terrible tragedy of Cave Creek and ensure as a department and a nation we never forget the lessons learned."

Cave Creek families spokesperson Virginia Pawsey said 25 years later DOC was now a trusted organisation. 

“Visitors can walk onto park structures and cross bridges in the knowledge they are safe. The families thank DOC for the way it builds its structures today. Strong safe structures are Cave Creek legacy.”

Rebecca Bird was a waitress in a local restaurant in Westport that day. She saw the horror and trauma of the Cave Creek catastrophe in the faces and hands of the many volunteers and workers.

"As the volunteers trickled in saturated, exhausted, and traumatised - I helped remove their heavy wet and bloody jackets and hugged some."