Swiss river disaster: Stunned adventure holiday firm defend safety record

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The Independent Online
"EUROPE'S NO1 Adventure Destination," is how the company advertised itself on its Internet site. Yesterday, however, offers of "an exciting world of unspoiled beauty" were replaced by a sober statement about the terrible loss of 19 lives.

"The accident is the most tragic occurrence that has come upon us," the company said. "It has shaken us to the core, and we would like to express our deepest sympathies to all those involved."

Canyoning had been the most popular of the adrenaline-rush sports offered by Adventure World, which also ran river rafting, bungee jumping, paragliding and sky diving trips.

The company was set up by Swiss mountain guides Peter Balmer, 32, and George Hoedle, 35, along with their friend Stephan Friedli, 33, in Interlaken, Switzerland, more than six years ago.

"My impression of Peter was one of terrific efficiency," saidLee Juillerat, an American who joined Mr Balmer for a day's sport last year. "He did not come across as some thrill seeker, merely a man who enjoyed a challenge." The three entrepreneurs quickly realised there was a demand for adventure activities. By last year they had an annual client base of 28,400 and employed 44 staff during the season - making it the leading adventure company in the Jungfrau region.

"In total, Adventure World has guided 110,000 clients in various activities, 36,000 of those being canyoning participants," the company said. "Until now there have been no serious injuries. Safety is a top priority for Adventure World and a large investment (both time and financial) is put into this."

Despite the fact that canyoning is considered dangerous enough to be banned in some American states, the group insisted that participants required no experience. "Our veteran guides will ensure your safety as you have the time of your life," it said. Canyoning was probably the company's most risky sport, Mr Juillerat said. "It would be so easy for an individual to slip and hurt themselves. I don't believe this would be allowed anywhere in America. But they were very conscious of safety. There was one guide to every five or six of us and they watched out and advised us." Tourists paid pounds 40 a day to take part in the sport, which involves finding the quickest way down a ravine by jumping into white water in wetsuits, life- jackets and helmets, diving over waterfalls and abseiling down rock faces.

Andy Middleton, from the British operators TYF No Limits Adventure, said there was no legislation because it was not viewed as dangerous. "There is more risk of injury while driving to take part in an adventure sport than while participating in the sport itself," he said.