Response to Loop News Article

A letter to Northern Governor Gary Juffa from Getaway Trekking Director and CEO, Sue Fitcher, in relation to the news article entitled, ‘Juffa calls for investigation into porter’s death’, posted 04:00, October 19, 2017 on Loop News.

Good afternoon Governor,

I write in relation to an article with Loop News that came across my desk this afternoon.

Firstly, I join you in welcoming an investigation into this tragic event. Getaway Trekking has been working closely with the Kokoda Track Authority to determine the events leading up to Winterford Tauno’s death, and if in fact, anything could reasonably have been foreseen that may have prevented this from occurring.

Like you, we are concerned about overloading of porters, and work on an ongoing basis with our Trek Masters and the KTA to ensure this does not occur with our teams. On occasion when we have found our porter’s weights to be too high, we have found additional staff at Owers Corner to assist until such time as weights are reduced with food consumption etc.

You were quoted in the article that ‘Mr Mabo Sigi found that the weight of Mr Tauno’s backpack was 28kg, 8kg more than the maximum weight recommended.’ This is factually incorrect – the maximum weight allowance for each porter is 22.5kg, not 20kg.

I am not sure if you have seen the Pack Weight Register that has been produced by Mr Sigi, however I do have a copy. The initial pack weight attributable to Mr Tauno has been written, then altered. It is therefore not able to be established if it is 18kg or 28kg. Regrettably, we are, at present, having to investigate the very likely possibility that the official documentation that records weights has been altered in order to appear that Mr Tauno’s pack weight did not meet regulation.

You are also quoted in the article that the pack weight was 28kg with a 4kg amount being reduced, re-distributed to another porter. It is equally possible that the weight was 18kg and a 4kg amount was re-distributed from others and added to Mr Tauno’s pack.

Without full forensic handwriting analysis, we will never know, however this theory is supported by the records taken in Port Moresby by my Trek Master, which records Mr Tauno’s pack weight at 17kg.

I dispute that our leaders, Australian or PNG, were advised to get more porters and ignored that advice. My advice from my Trek Master is that all packs were weighed in Port Moresby and all found to be well under the maximum weight. My Trek Master further advises that packs were not weighed by scale at Owers Corner, instead that an ad hoc process was taken, lifting the packs by hand to establish suitability of weight.

However, should packs have been too heavy, and since this is an established practice, we would have had no difficulty taking on more staff; both Australian and PNG management and trek leading staff are very clear as to our compliance with weight limits.

I am at a loss as to why you you would be quoted as saying that weight re-distributed was transferred back into Mr Tauno’s backpack. This is hearsay at best; I’m not sure if your source claims to have been there, or if this is effectively Chinese whispers.

I believe we are moving towards a thorough understanding of events leading up to the commencement of this trek, however if you have any information you believe I am unaware of, I ask that you share with me. I am committed to a thorough investigation and review and to applying any learnings to our business, to the betterment of our industry.

This is a tragic event, and to honour Winterford’s legacy, we must learn and move forward. We are committed to our role as the major provider of employment in the Buna/Sanananda villages and have commenced investigations into a group insurance facility that will provide surety to families in the event of misfortune to their loved ones. Our own internal review is being conducted with a view to lifting the professionalism of the entire industry. As a member of the Kokoda Tour Operators Association, we have tabled this for discussion at our November meeting.

Finally, I want to advise you that we have contacted Julianna from the Loop to correct the inaccuracies of their report. As a commercial entity, you will appreciate that we need to protect the integrity of our brand, and we will do so vigorously.

Kind Regards,

Sue Fitcher
1300 979 088