Contractor killed, another hurt after Big Island zipline accident

Published: Sep. 21, 2011 at 3:54 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 22, 2011 at 11:40 AM HST
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Source: Damon Tucker
Source: Damon Tucker
Randall Medeiros
Randall Medeiros
Audrey Hidano
Audrey Hidano

By Tim Sakahara - bio | email

HILO (HawaiiNewsNow) - There are at least a dozen zip line attractions in Hawaii.  The newest near Hilo was shut down after a worker fell 200 feet to his death during a test run.  Another worker who fell was hospitalized.

Both men were contractors with the Maui-based company Go-Zip.  They were setting up the lines for Lava Hotline and Kapohokine Adventures near Pauka'a about four miles up the Honoli'i Stream.

The company's website says it had the necessary permits but the tragedy puts the entire industry under new scrutiny.

In a statement, the company, under the name "Experiential Resources, Inc.," said, "The ERi family extends our heartfelt sympathy and aloha to the family and friends of our employees."

Ziplining has grown in popularity over the past few years and the industry has flown under the radar in terms of state regulation but that could change.

Ziplining involves gliding from one point to another often from great heights and over valleys at speeds of more than 40 miles per hour.

Police say today's trouble started with complaints from customers who said it didn't zip fast enough.  The company had the cables tightened to make it faster.  On the test run one of the platforms fell.  The worker that was zipping on the line fell 200 feet down to the rocky streambed below.  He died at the scene.  He was 36 years old from Maui.

Another worker on the platform fell about 30 feet and is in critical condition with broken bones and internal injuries.  He is 35 years old from Ohio.

"They were contractors who had just tightened the line and were in the process of checking the line. The first man had traversed approximately half of the 2,300 foot span when the tower collapsed and he fell to his death," said Capt. Randall Medeiros, Hawaii County Police Department.  "The two men work for a Maui company that constructs and maintains zip lines. They were asked to tighten the rope to make it faster because the line which had been in operation for approximately a week had been the subject of complaints by customers who said that the line was too slow."

Ziplines have become extremely popular with companies operating all over the state.  Yet they are not regulated like other amusement rides simply because they don't use a motor or electricity.  A company doesn't even need a license to operate.

"It's not like a construction contractor. There's no licensing. If anything they register it as a business, pay your general excise taxes, pay your unemployment insurance and all that but I don't believe there is a license involved in this," said Audrey Hidano, Department of Labor and Industrial Relations Deputy Director.

"Should there be?" I ask.

"Well I don't know it's something that is a policy decision and the legislature would have to make a call on that and add it to our statute or admin rules," responded Hidano.

Last legislative session State Representative Mark Nakashima introduced House Bill 1246 which would have regulated ziplines and required companies to be insured but it didn't go anywhere.  You can be sure he'll push to get it passed again next session.

"It's a great thing however we need to ensure the health and safety of the participants are insured so we don't have accidents like we had today," said Rep. Mark Nakashima (D), Hilo, Kohala.  "As well as addressing some of the environmental issues that ziplines go into."

The company's co-owner Gary Marrow had no comment.  His company, Lava Hotline LLC, was also fined in May for unauthorized construction on conservation land in order to benefit his tours.  He paid a $15,000 fine, plus $1,500 in administrative costs.  He is also supposed to return the trail to its original condition.

Late Wednesday afternoon Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi released the following statement:

"I want to express our concern and condolences to the families of both men involved in this tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers go out to their families."

"We will conduct a careful, thorough review to determine all of the facts in this case. We need to know exactly what happened and why, and we need to know exactly what went wrong. When we have completed that review and the facts are known, we will release our findings publicly."

The investigation is being conducted by Hawaii County Police Department.

Copyright 2011 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.