Maui woman dies after falling 150 ft. in zipline accident

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has opened an investigation after a 29-year-old woman fell to her death Thursday in a zipline accident on Maui. It happened at around 9:51 a.m. at Piiholo Ranch Zipline in Makawao.

The company posted a statement on its Web site identifying the woman as employee Patricia “Trish” Rabellizsa. “We are working in full cooperation with the Maui Police Department’s ongoing investigation,” the statement said.

According to police, the woman fell about 150 feet into a gulch. Rescuers had to hike into thick vegetation and rugged terrain to get to her, but by then, she had died.

In 2011, company founder Peter Baldwin told KHON2 News that the zipline follows strict safety guidelines set forth by the Association for Challenge Course Technology. “I know on our course, we do major inspections twice a year,” said Baldwin. “We have an independent third party come and do inspections.”

Two years ago, state lawmakers introduced legislation to regulate the zipline industry, but the effort failed. They turned to the State Auditor to determine whether there should be regulation. The Auditor responded, saying “since proponents have not provided any evidence of harm or abusive practices, we conclude that the necessity for regulating zipline and canopy tour operators has not been established.”

Related Link: Read the full report ‘Sunrise Analysis: Regulation of Ziplines and Canopy Tours’

The report went on to say that the insurance companies already annually inspect the ziplines according to the industry’s standards, and the state labor department already has a backlog of safety inspections and does not have the manpower or resources to oversee the ziplines.

“The Dept. of Labor objected because they don’t have the manpower and resources, and they usually don’t do regulatory type structures, except for health and safety workplace things,” said state Rep. Angus McKelvey (D-West Maui, Maalaea, North Kihei), chair of the Consumer Protection and Commerce Committee. “The DCCA (Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs) will be the most appropriate entity… to have them in there.”

State Rep. Mark Nakashima (D-Hamakua, North Hilo, South Hilo), who has a number of ziplines in his Big Island district, has been spearheading efforts to regulate the industry. Thursday’s incident has sparked new interest in looking at the ziplines again, which is now a largely self-regulated industry.

“I did introduce a bill a year before the last accident and it is only after the accident that the bill got some traction,” said Nakashima. “We are back here once again and perhaps this is what it takes to get interest from the legislature.”

“These type of instances, if it’s becoming a pattern, definitely we will have us take a look at the industry next session,” said McKelvey.

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