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Zoe Woolmer: Tourists encouraged to take photos at cliff edge, Kings Canyon death inquiry hears

ABC News ABC News 5/10/2015 Rosa Ellen

English backpacker Zoe Woolmer died at Kestrel Falls in Kings Canyon in June 2014. © Supplied/Facebook English backpacker Zoe Woolmer died at Kestrel Falls in Kings Canyon in June 2014. Tour companies encouraged patrons to climb down a ledge at Kings Canyon in the Northern Territory where a 23-year-old tourist fell and died last year, a coroner has heard.

British tourist Zoe Woolmer was on a guided tour with The Rock Tour Company in June 2014 when she and a number of other tourists climbed down onto a ledge at Kings Canyon for a photo opportunity, following a demonstration by the tour guide.

At least three witness accounts differed slightly as to the exact circumstances of how Ms Woolmer came to fall from the ledge.

The particular ledge where Ms Woolmer fell had been described as a "lookout", and had for a long time been used as a location for "fun" photos whereby the tourist appeared to be clinging from the cliff.

The opening day of the inquest heard Ms Woolmer's tour guide, Rebecca Gethen, was only six weeks into the job when the death occurred and on her fourth solo tour.

"I didn't [see her fall] directly at the time but I distinctly remember her pink and white top going in and out of view. There was a scream and it took me a moment to register what had happened," a distraught Ms Gethen told the coroner.

"She wasn't saying any words but she was groaning and moaning. She was looking up at me... I said, 'help is on the way darling. Don't worry, I won't leave you.'"

The Kestrel Falls Kings Canyon ledge from where Zoe Woolmer fell in June 2014. © ABC News The Kestrel Falls Kings Canyon ledge from where Zoe Woolmer fell in June 2014. Before leading a solo tour, Ms Gethren had trained with an experienced guide who showed her how to take visitors one metre from the canyon's edge.

The coroner heard the cliff edge visit was also on the tour itinerary.

Counsel assisting the coroner, Kelvin Currie, asked Ms Gethren why she had gone along with the company's itinerary despite signposted warnings at the canyon itself.

"I didn't think," she sobbed. "I just wanted to get everything right that was in the itinerary and I wanted to do a good job."

Head ranger at Watarrka National Park, Michael Rawnsley, described scrambling through thickets and over boulders to get to Ms Woolmer.

He stayed with her overnight until her body could be recovered, he said.

She stepped on air: Witness

Mr Currie told the inquest there had previously been a death at the same ledge in 1996.

Mr Currie also said there was a "cliff safety" sign warning people, amongst other things, to stay away from the cliff.

He drew the inquest's attention to correspondence between The Rock Tour Company and the Parks and Wildlife Commission NT, who had told all tour companies to stay two metres from the canyon's edge at all times.

A photo of a tourist appearing to cling onto the Kestrel Falls ledge at Kings Canyon. © Supplied A photo of a tourist appearing to cling onto the Kestrel Falls ledge at Kings Canyon. In 2014, there were many examples of these fun photos at the ledge on the company's Facebook page.

Mr Currie said one witness had stated that Ms Woolmer got down on the ledge as instructed, sitting on the edge and then rolling onto her stomach.

"She then put her left leg down and moved her body to put her right foot on the ledge. However her right foot didn't reach the ledge at the moment she anticipated," he said.

"As the witness put it: 'she stepped on air'."

Ms Woolmer fell backwards from the ledge, rolled onto a rocky protrusion below the ledge before falling about 15 metres or more onto the rocks below.

Mr Currie said she suffered severe injuries including skull fractures leading to bleeding on the brain, a broken back, fractured pelvis, sternum and right shoulder blade.

Ms Woolmer died at the scene after CPR was performed for more than 20 minutes.

Mr Currie said the issue was whether training for staff by the tour operator The Rock Tour Company was adequate, as well as the effectiveness of the permit system for tour operators.

"The way those [permit] requirements were communicated to the guides by the operators and the manner of that communication is clearly very relevant," Mr Currie said.

Ms Woolmer's family have travelled from England to attend the inquest, which is set down for three days.

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