Inquest hears of handbrake defect

An inquest is currently underway into the deaths of three international tourists in two separate crashes on Fraser Island last year.
An inquest is currently underway into the deaths of three international tourists in two separate crashes on Fraser Island last year.

AN INQUEST has been told that a hired 4WD that crashed and killed two young tourists on Fraser Island in April last year was not roadworthy.

While a police investigation deemed the vehicle unsafe, its condition may not have been a factor as to why the crash occurred.

Hervey Bay Coroners Court was told the Toyota Landcruiser Troop Carrier was driven by inexperienced 20-year-old driver, James May, from England.

He was driving along Eastern Beach north of Dundubara when he swerved to avoid whitewash which had swept up in front of the vehicle.

The Landcruiser carrying 11 backpackers rolled three times before coming to rest on its side, killing Italian tourist Concetta dell’Angelo, 26, and UK resident Ian Davy, 22.

The other nine passengers were also injured with two suffering serious spinal injuries.

Senior Constable Glenn Ruston, who investigated the crash, estimated that May was doing between 70 to 75kmh because the vehicle was found to be in fourth gear.

“It’s an indication only... (but) fourth gear indicates it was being driven at a reasonable speed.”

But the passengers told him May was “driving with care and there was no untoward behaviour”.

“The speed limit on the beach at the time defaulted to 100kmh because it was not signposted,” Snr Const Ruston said.

An 80kmh limit has since been imposed.

“I think people go over there and they have the self esteem that they can drive and they can handle the conditions,” he said, before adding that the island environment was extremely dynamic.

The Hervey Bay Coroners Court heard that the police checks on the vehicle after the horror crash showed it was unroadworthy due to a handbrake defect.

John Knight of Bay 4WD told the court anyone who indicated they wanted to drive on the island was made to watch a safety video before they could leave with the vehicle.

“People understood they were not allowed to drive unless they were older than 21 or had held an open licence for more than two years,” he said.

This was despite the company’s policy that every occupant had to sign a form titled “additional drivers”, which he understood to be for insurance purposes.

Mr Knight was made redundant soon after the incident.

Bay 4WD owner John Bush said the form was simply a record of who was travelling in each vehicle when it was hired by a large group.

He said since the crash the company was now adhering to stricter procedures.

“We’ve actually changed it to a more detailed system,” Mr Bush said.

“We’ve tightened our procedures a lot.”

Snr Const Ruston believes dell’Angelo and Davy weren’t wearing seatbelts when they were thrown from the vehicle due to a lack of bruising found on the other occupants.

In his report he made recommendations that all seats be forward-facing and include three point seatbelts, and that roof racks be banned.

“Any time you put weight above the centre of gravity, it’s going to affect the driving capabilities of the vehicle,” he said.

Snr Const Ruston believes 80kmh is an “appropriate speed for the beach” but that those speed levels should be regularly reviewed.

He also said tag-along tours, which will see an experienced driver leading other vehicles across the island from July 1, would solve some of the issues.

The inquest, before state Coroner Michael Barnes, is investigating the deaths of dell’Angleo and Davy and that of Japanese tourist Takeshi Sakai on the same stretch of beach on December 13.

It will look at the policies and procedures for hiring 4WD vehicles to backpackers and “ways of preventing deaths happening in similar circumstances”.

The inquest continues today.

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