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THE NEW ZEALAND HERALD ONLINE 02-23-2000 WEDNESDAY Family join search for snowboarders

22.02.2000 - By FRANCESCA MOLD and NZPA Family members will join the search today for three New Zealand snowboarders swept away in a massive avalanche in Japan. Aucklander Chris Coaster, aged 25, Craig Mowat, 25, from Wanaka, and James Gordon, 18, from Dannevirke, were caught in a massive snowslide 6km from the ski resort of Hakuba, 179km northwest of Tokyo, at about 3.30 pm (7.30pm NZ time) on Saturday. Sniffer dogs and 37 police and volunteer rescuers searching the highly unstable avalanche site have failed to find the three friends, who were snowboarding outside patrolled areas at the time of the slide. Mr Gordon's sisters Lauren, 21, and Jolene, 23, flew to Tokyo yesterday with their parents, Stuart and Robyn, and will travel to Hakuba by train this morning. Lauren Gordon, who worked for three years at a skifield, said yesterday that she was eager to join a search party as soon as she arrived. The family were still confident her brother, who was training in Japan in the hope of competing in the winter Olympics, was alive. "We're just hoping he is in a snow cave or something. "The knowledge that there are three of them up there who are all professional and know what to do helps. We really just want to get there and get him home." Before she flew out, Ms Gordon said she was appalled to hear that an official search might have been delayed while Japanese police found whether the men had insurance to cover rescue costs. Former Dunedin man Michael Harris, now living in Hakuba, claims police insisted on written confirmation from the men's insurance companies before initiating a full-scale search. But New Zealand Embassy spokesman Kerry Davis, who is liaising with searchers from a hotel in Hakuba, said Japanese police had assured him that a search had gone ahead immediately and they were doing all they could. Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesman James Funnell said last night that Japanese police had confirmed they would not seek compensation for the costs of the initial search. However, they had asked for financial help to boost numbers in the search team. A hotel had donated some money. The search on Saturday was limited to a helicopter sweep because the ground was considered too unstable for rescuers to go in on foot. Searchers have to hike for two hours to get to the avalanche site, where temperatures yesterday plummeted to about 13 degrees below zero. Mr Davis said he understood that at the time of the avalanche snow had swept down the mountain, through a long valley and into a riverbed about 300m wide. In some places the snow was 15m deep. NZI underwrote insurance for the snowboarders. Director of operations Wayne Wilkinson said it had dealt with Japanese authorities through an insurance agency called SOS. Mr Wilkinson said there had been delays in confirming that the men had insurance because it was a weekend, but it was confirmed by mid-afternoon on Sunday that there was no search and rescue provision in NZI policies. "Normally, in a search and rescue situation, it is nothing to do with an insurance company. Why they were turning round and asking an insurance company if they should go ahead with search and rescue, I don't know." He said no other insurance companies would have search and rescue provisions either. In New Zealand, police run all search and rescue operations without questions and foot the bill. The Gordon family have set up a trust fund at the Bank of New Zealand for donations towards a private search. The account number is 02 0612 0140071 67.

-- boop (leafyspurge@hotmail.com), February 22, 2000


I hope they're found alright. But that's damned pitiful. Like having 911 make you wait while they confirm that you have fire insurance before they'll send the fire department out.

-- I'm Here, I'm There (I'm Everywhere@so.beware), February 22, 2000.

If you freely choose to ski or snowboard out of bounds, you should be required to pay for your entire rescue. Caveat Boarder (Let the Boarder beware)

-- nobody (nobody@nowhere.com), February 22, 2000.

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