Tour company fined after Japanese schoolboys drown on Qld island

When Hiroshi Mizuno last saw his son, the teenager’s eyes were filled with hope as he waved cheerfully before boarding a plane to Australia.

Days later, Mizuno would see his son’s body, “cold and motionless … vacuum packed”, as it was transported back to Japan.

Mizuno told a Brisbane court in his victim impact statement of his extreme difficulty at seeing his 16-year-old son, Taiki, not on a plane seat but in the cargo hold below.

Taiki drowned alongside another student, Shinnosuke Kimura, at K’gari, formerly Fraser Island, off Queensland’s coast in March 2019.

The pair had been at Lake McKenzie on a tour with a group from Kanagawa University High School.

Every day since Taiki’s death, Mizuno charged his son’s phone so it did not go flat.

He has lived with the memory of knowing his son decided at 13 years old to become a doctor after losing his mother, Mizuno’s wife, to cancer.

He regretted trusting his son’s school with the trip, and has offered an apology to his son every day for not being able to save his life.

Shinnosuke’s mother said she wished she could “turn back time and bring the two back. I want to hold my son once again. I want to put him in a warm bath and then serve him freshly cooked rice”.

His older brother, who was days away from starting university and had bought a suit for the entrance ceremony, instead wore it to his little brother’s funeral.

Before their deaths, Taiki and Shinnosuke had been playing in the water and discussed swimming across the lake. Just before 3pm, a teacher alerted other adults after noticing the two boys were missing.

The next day police divers found their bodies in the lake, which has a surface area of about 150 hectares and is up to nine metres deep. Signs that read “swimming is not recommended” were around the lake.

The tour operator, Huckleberry Australia, was charged after the deaths with failing to comply with health and safety duties.

This week the company was fined $250,000.

Magistrate John Costanzo handed down a reserved decision last week in the Brisbane Magistrates Court, where he said Huckleberry should have known or identified the risks with swimming at the lake, and it failed in its duty to provide information to protect people from those risks.

The court documents stated Huckleberry had gone from enjoying a profit of $102,000 in 2019 to a loss of $371,000 the following year.

“Although the defendant is not charged with directly causing the deaths, the breach of duty clearly was a substantial indirect cause because it had not done any risk assessment at all, thus depriving itself and its staff or agents of crucial knowledge,” Costanzo said.

He fined Huckleberry $250,000 and recommended the Queensland government review parts of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 to include swimming activities in tour groups.

A conviction was not recorded.

Source: Brisbane Times

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