Briton 'stepped on air' before fatal fall on Australian canyon tour


A British tourist "stepped on air" before falling about 15 metres to her death in Australia, an inquest has heard.

Zoe Woolmer, 23, was in Australia on a 12-month working visa when she left Sydney for Alice Springs in June last year to take part in a three-day tour of the Watarrka and Uluru-Kata Tjuta national parks with The Rock Tour company.

On the day she died she was with 16 other tourists taking part in a three-hour rim walk of Kings Canyon in the Northern Territory.

Towards the end of the walk the group arrived at a lookout known as Kestral Falls, a spot often used for photographs where climbers can make their way down to a rock ledge so their images give the impression they are clinging to or falling from the cliff.

Opening the inquest in Alice Springs, Kelvin Currie - the counsel assisting the coroner - said Ms Woolmer had been among a number in her tour group who made their way down to the ledge after receiving some instructions on the safest way of doing so by her guide.

He said what happened to cause her to fall was not entirely clear with a number of witnesses giving some details.

One of them said Ms Woolmer fell as she went to put her right foot down and it did not reach the ledge as she anticipated.

"As the witness put it 'she stepped on air'," Mr Currie said.

"At that moment she also appears to have let go her hold on the top ledge.

"She reached out for the top ledge as she was falling backwards."

Mr Currie told the court another witness described Ms Woolmer as jumping down to the ledge as she lost her balance and a third said she stumbled as she turned after reaching the ledge.

Ms Woolmer rolled on to a rocky protrusion below the ledge before falling about 15 metres on to more rocks.

She suffered severe injuries, including skull fractures, bleeding to the brain, a broken back, a fractured pelvis and a fractured right shoulder blade.

She was still alive when rangers arrived about 50 minutes later but died soon afterwards.

Mr Currie said one of the issues for the inquest would be whether the training for the tour guide was adequate and appropriate, particularly the aspect related to her showing tourists how to slide to the cliff edge to take photos.

He said the practice seemed to have endured with some tour operators despite the previous death of an English tourist at the same ledge in 1996 and signs warning people to stay away.

The inquest is continuing.