You can never be too
careful with adventure
sports, as last week's
parasailing accident in
Goa proved. Just as tales
of stupendous achievement and heroism
become part of folklore and legend
in adventure circles, so do narratives
of crucial errors and lapses
of judgment that resulted in horrifying
consequences. Over the
years, I have heard several
accounts of "mistakes" that led
to deaths but two instances
One was a rafting accident
in which a girl drowned. She was
part of a group of tourists led by
a river guide. Seated at the back
of the raft, the guide steers while the
passengers' paddling propels it along.
The guide is responsible for the clients'
safety. The raft capsized while running
a large rapid. The golden rule
after a capsize is to do a head count
immediately. Since everyone is wearing
a life jacket, they float to the surface.
The guide did the head count only
after a few minutes and realised one
person was missing. He dove under
the raft, which was floating upside
down, and found the girl stuck under
it. Her foot was caught in the rope running
around the rim of the raft and
she was struggling to free it.
Now came the river guide's second
mistake: he did not have the mandatory
knife in the chest pocket of his life
jacket. He could have sliced through
the rope in a second. As it was, he wasted
precious seconds freeing her foot.
By the time she was brought out, her
lungs were full of water.
The second instance relates to
paragliding. A tourist flying with a tandem
paragliding pilot was
not strapped into the
It loosened in
mid-flight and the
pilot, unable to let go
of the paraglider's risers
(strings), watched helplessly
as the tourist fell to his death.
Rules exist for a reason
In these cases, it may have been the
experienced practitioner of the sport
taking along a tourist for a joyride who
was to blame. But there's another side
to it. Staffers of adventure companies
complain that Indian clients often
resist safety rules. There are instances
of people refusing to wear helmets,
retorting, "It will be my skull that will
be broken, okay?" Women in saris
insist on wearing paragliding harnesses,
even though adventure companies
offer them salwar suits and a
place to change.
The tourist who sets out to do an
adventure activity is responsible
for his own safety. Observing safety
rules, rather than flouting them,
is an obvious and primary requisite.
clothes and shoes, tucking hair
out of the way, and removing jewellery
and watches are others. It
is also wise to check the
antecedents of an adventure company,
Where's the compromise?
Price is a telling factor. If a company
quotes a competitive price, ask
where it is cutting costs.
Compromise on food, accommodation
and service is acceptable
but check that safety aspects are
in order. An operator who
observes safety procedures
incurs costs, which have to be
passed on to the client. For
instance, there should be one
safety kayaker per raft so
two rafts require two safety
kayakers. It is in your
own interest to be wary
of offers to bring down
the cost by having
one safety kayaker
for two rafts.
In addition to
paragliding, trekking and mountaineering
see the most accidents.
Indian trekkers and mountaineers tend
to take chances. There is also an element
of human nature involved. Once
you have gambled and emerged safely,
you will gamble a little more the
next time. Ultimately, you push the
margin of safety too far.
Mountaineering lore is replete with
instances of climbers, reluctant to be
declared unfit and ordered down the
mountain, hiding the fact that they are
suffering loss of appetite or headache the first symptoms of altitude-related
illness. A cough cannot be hidden
but even people with persistent coughing
and blood-flecked sputum have
resisted teammates' urging to abandon
their summit attempts with
The buck stops with you.