A trekking group member delivered a harrowing account of Wellington woman Janet Nyes final days on an Indian trek facilitated by Federated Mountain Clubs (FMC) now-defunct Travel Club, raising questions about the competency of New Zealand trip leader Joe Nawalaniec.
While succumbing to altitude sickness, Nelson civil engineer Karen Debbie Hogan found her trek partner hunched over her walking sticks and battling to breathe, watched her struggle to make the 20-metre walk to the toilet, and heard Nyes lungs make a crinkling noise.
When the decision was made to take Nye off the mountain in Ladakh, a region set between the Karakoram and Great Himalayan ranges, on October 6, 2018, the oxygen tank Nye was given was empty after the seal wasnt fitted properly.
Senior Constable Keith Stevens said the cause of Nyes death was the result of high altitude pulmonary edema leading to cardio-respiratory arrest.
Just 400 metres into her descent on horseback, Nye lapsed into unconsciousness. Despite five to six hours of CPR being administered, Senior Constable Keith Stevens said Nye died from high altitude pulmonary edema, or altitude sickness, leading to cardio-respiratory arrest.
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While Nyes death occurred overseas, the 68-year-olds family raised concerns about her death with the New Zealand Coronial Services Unit and the Ministry of Justice, and Coroner Peter Ryan was assigned to investigate.
On the opening day of the Nye inquest in Wellington, Hogan said concerns had been raised about experienced mountaineer Nawalaneics ability to lead the group, and there had been friction between Nawalaneic and the treks Indian guide, Ali of local company Haya Himalaya.
Coroner Peter Ryan at the inquest into the death of Janet Nye.
Hogan claimed Nawalaneic left the group to scale a mountain pass without notifying it, encouraged some to take altitude tablets at lower levels of elevation, failed to care for the weaker group members, and rebuffed concerns from Hogan and others about Nyes worsening condition.
I felt a little bit threatened by his leadership style … I found Joes leadership style quite confrontational and that he didnt take my concerns into consideration, Hogan said.
The altitude level on day one of the trip, intended to be for acclimatisation, exceeded safe levels, with some of the group becoming very unwell, the inquest was told.
Joe explained that this was too high … and he explained that we had broken all the altitude climbing rules of not climbing more than 500m in a day, Hogan said.
Carterton mountaineer Joe Nawalaniec led the trek in Ladakh, a region set between the Karakoram and Great Himalayan ranges.
While cross-examining Hogan, Nawalaneic claimed much of her testimony just doesnt add up and that he disputed her recollection of events.
Early on in proceedings, Nawalaniec sought clarification about his role in the inquest from Coroner Ryan.
You are not an accused person, Ryan said in response to Nawalaniecs comments that some of his evidence would differ to what others were due to present.
I want everybody to have clarity. This whole room wants clarity. I have no axe to grind, no sword to push, no fight to get into. I want this to be clarified and be got through with, for the sake of Mr Joiner [Nyes husband] and everybody else here, Nawalaniec said.
Janet Nye died on a trek run by Federated Mountain Clubs Travel Club, a club which has since stopped offering trekking trips. (File photo)
Witness John Dobbs, FMC Travel Club convenor, was asked what level of detail Nye had provided regarding her level of trekking experience prior to departing New Zealand.
Dobbs said that he took people at face value when they provided information about their ability to undertake what was described as a high-risk trek at high altitude.
During cross-examination, Nawalaniec sought to demonstrate that, as the local company paid to guide to the trip, the ultimate responsibility for ensuring participant safety sat with Haya Himalaya and that he relied entirely on the company once the trek was underway, because of their years of experience running the itinerary.
Robert Joiner was expected to provide testimony on Thursday. The inquest has been set down for three days.

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