One killed, 11 injured as tourist jet boat crashes in New Zealand

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The Independent Online

A honeymooning Japanese tourist was killed today and 11 people injured when a jet boat crashed in New Zealand's adventure tourism center of Queenstown, police said.

A honeymooning Japanese tourist was killed today and 11 people injured when a jet boat crashed in New Zealand's adventure tourism center of Queenstown, police said.

Jet boat operator James Boult said the boat hit a canyon wall as it sped downstream at 2:30 p.m. (0130 GMT).

Police identified the victim as 30-year-old Yuichiro Shibata from Nagoya-Shi-Aichi-Ken.

They did not give the name of his wife, who was injured in the accident. They had been married just two weeks.

The boat was carrying four Japanese tourists and seven Europeans as well as a driver, Boult said.

In thrilling rides, jet boat drivers aim their high-speed boats at rock walls in the Shotover River canyons and then veer away at the last second with just centimeters (inches) to spare.

At other times, they steer their boats into sharp 360-degree turns, throwing up plumes of water that drench the passengers. The rides are among New Zealand's top tourist draws.

Police and marine authorities immediately launched an investigation into how the boat, which can travel at speeds up to 65 kilometers (40 miles) per hour through the narrow canyons, smashed into the rock wall.

Jet boat trips were immediately suspended to allow investigations to continue and as a mark of respect for the dead man and his family. They were to resume Saturday afternoon.

The victim died at the scene, St. John Ambulance spokesman Nicky Chird said. The 11 injured people were taken to Lakes District Hospital with minor injuries.

Police and ambulance crews were at the scene about 700 kilometers (430 miles) south of New Zealand's capital, Wellington.

Shotover Jet company managing director Boult, whose has the only license to operate jet boats in the canyons, said it was the first fatal accident in one of his company's boats.

"In 30 years of operating, we have never had an accident like this," he told The Associated Press.

"We have carried 1.75 million passengers in that time, but that doesn't in any way excuse what happened."

According to the company's Web site, jet boats are powered by an internal propeller driven by a V-8 Chevrolet engine that sucks water into the underside of the boat and blasts it out of the back.

Last month, nine Shotover Jet passengers were taken to hospital after a boat hit a rock. There were no major injuries.

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