CHIANG MAI, 14 June 2019: Flight of the Gibbon Chiang Mai reopened last week after securing police clearance, almost two months after a fatal zip line accident on 13 April.
Police in Chiang Mai gave the green light for the popular attraction to resume bookings and sales of zip line packages that cost a minimum of THB4,199 for the two-hour ride through the treetops.
Unconfirmed reports blamed the accident on “metallurgic failure,” although the investigation report has not been officially made public.
Chiang Mai’s adventure travel community believe a reluctance to make the investigation report public may fuel further speculation that could damage the city’s tourism.
Canadian tourist, Spencer Donaldson clipped in for a 5 km ride at Flight of the Gibbon, but within seconds after stepping off the platform he fell 12 metres to his death.
Last month, his family told Global News Canada they hoped the tragedy would help spark safety changes in Thailand’s adventure travel industry particularly the standards and safety procedures for popular zip lines across the country.
Flight of the Gibbon at the time of the accident told local media, Donaldson had completed a safety orientation and that he was within the ride’s 125-kg weight limit.
But Donaldson’s family in an interview with Global News late last month referred to allegations that cable clamps on the ride may have not been installed properly.
“We are very happy to have the support of the Thai government and local authorities to implement change and accountability that will make safety in zip lining equal to other countries,” said Donaldson’s family in a statement following a memorial service for the 25-year old Spencer.
Donaldson’s family wasn’t the only one raising concerns about the safety of zip lines and other adventure travel activities in foreign countries, Global News Canada reported in a recent update.
It quoted Liberal MP Pamela Goldsmith-Jones saying Canada has since updated its travel advisories on Thailand with a warning about adventure sports.
“It’s very important for people to understand, in adventure sports, international standards may not necessarily be adhered to,” she claimed.
Operating for more than 12 years in Chiang Mai, Flight of the Gibbon responded to questions from TTR Weekly with a statement on what may have caused the accident. It focused on what the zip line trade calls a ‘swing apparatus’.
“The tragic accident occurred on a swing apparatus, a distinct optional activity.
“Our entire course, as well as the swing apparatus, is safe. Nevertheless, for the immediate future, the swing apparatus has been removed from the location and is thus not offered.”
The company’s website and TripAdvisor statements on safety checks suggested it had an affiliation with the US-based Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT) that has since been called into question by critics.
In response to TTR Weekly questions on the validity of its ACCT safety inspections, the management noted: “The Chiang Mai course regularly undergoes several types of inspections.
“It is annually inspected and certified by an ACCT Level 2 certified inspector, most recently in November. Our understanding is that this is the only way to certify that the course meets ACCT standards. ACCT does not issue certificates to individual ropes or zip line courses directly.
“Rather, the ACCT certifies individual inspectors that carry out inspections for compliance with ACCT standards. Thus, we are fully inspected and reviewed by a certified ACCT professional level 2 inspector.
“In addition to the November inspection (ACCT standards), a separate third-party inspection was completed and documented in March.
“The zip line course was inspected again in May by an engineering firm, and layered redundant inspections are in place above and beyond what is required by law or ACCT standards. Flight of the Gibbon is fully licensed, insured and in compliance with all laws and regulations.”
Prior to the 13 April accident, Flight of the Gibbon clearly promoted its affiliation with the Association for Challenge Course Technology on its website.
However, in response to an email from TTR Weekly, ACCT’s executive director Shawn Tierney suggested otherwise.
“Flight of the Gibbon had its membership status revoked by ACCT, as of April 2019 due to misrepresenting their relationship with ACCT.”
“For the record, ACCT does not certify zip line tours or aerial adventure parks, nor does ACCT inspect zip line tours or aerial adventure parks.
“ACCT certifies individuals as inspectors, who then conduct inspections while employed by a company with the proper insurance to perform that service.”
When attempting to book a zip line flight at the Chiang Mai park through TripAdvisor, the review and booking channel flagged the activity as “not bookable at the present.”
Similar responses surfaced on other global booking sites that offer and adventure attractions, but that could be due to glitz reinstating booking options for Flight of the Gibbon following the almost two-month suspension.
Founded in 2007, Flight of the Gibbon is considered a trusted zip line tour operator by its international travel trade partners. Its website commitment promises the “ highest safety standards and the most memorable zip line adventures in Southeast Asia.”
But accidents cast a shadow over zip lining in Thailand, possibly challenging the commonly voiced assurances on safety and reliability.
Just days after Flight of the Gibbon reopened earlier this month, the father-in-law of the deceased Spencer Donaldson posted on TripAdvisor a scathing allegation that an “improperly assembled cable and a failure to provide a backup safety line on the ‘Superman leg’ caused the fatal accident.”
Allegations and speculation over what might have caused the tragedy are likely to continue. Only the release of an official and credible investigation report by the authorities will offer closure for those who grieve. It would also provide essential guidelines for Thailand’s zip line operators to raise the quality bar on safety standards.
Thailand’s entire adventure travel community could ultimately face a backlash from concerned travel consumers until the findings of the investigation are made public.
Wikipedia on zip line safety
“There is no official record of zip-lining fatalities, but there were more than a dozen news reports of deaths in the US between 2006 and 2017. A 2015 study by The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital reported in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine found that the number of visits to the emergency room for zip-line injuries in the US increased from a few hundred per year in 1997 to more than 3,600 in 2012, with the total number of injuries estimated at 16,850. Researchers at Ohio State University also found that almost 12% of injuries resulted in fractures or other injuries requiring hospitalization.”
Founded in 1993, the Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT) is the world’s largest American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Accredited Standards Developer focused specifically and solely on the challenge course industry.
ACCT has 3097 members worldwide (including the US, Europe, Asia, the Caribbean, Canada, Japan, Korea and Central America).