The board of directors of the Hiking Association of Trinidad and Tobago (HATT) has suspended the Island Hikers/Fitness Walkers’ membership following the death of hiker Richard Baird at the Aripo Falls on August 19.
The board met with Mario Russell, who was said to be one of the principals of the hiking group, last week Friday to discuss the circumstances surrounding Baird’s death.
An autopsy determined Baird died from a broken neck.
Based on the outcome of the meeting with Russell, the directors agreed the hiking group disregarded certain fundamental safe hike management practices and viewed these transgressions as “very serious and inconsistent with the goals and objectives of HATT”.
As such, interim secretary of HATT Michael Jattan said the directors agreed to suspend the Island Hikers/ Fitness Walkers’ membership from HATT effective August 4, 2017, pending the implementation of actions to reform its hike management practices.
Jattan said HATT would work with Island Hikers/ Fitness Walkers towards improving its hike management system. He said they intended to closely monitor the implementation of these activities over a three-month period and upon demonstration of a sustained satisfactory reform to its hike management practices, the suspension from membership would be lifted. Island Hikers/Fitness Walkers has been advised that failure to comply with and undertake necessary reforms would result in its expulsion from HATT. “The organisation’s concern is a member of the HATT so we did our investigation from the point of view of what was the nature of the hike management on the day of the incident. Our investigation was from that perspective. A police perspective would be about anything criminal, that is outside of our realm. The organisation is a member of our organisation, we have certain standards with respect of how they should be conducted so, the suspension would have been based on concerns we would have had with the management of the hike of the day,” Jattan told Newsday.
Also, he said HATT acknowledged the concerns of the hiking fraternity, stakeholders and the general public arising from this latest incident. “HATT is in the process of drafting guidelines for hikers and standards for hiking clubs, to be submitted to the Bureau of Standards for implementation in the shortest possible time. HATT is committed to treating the natural environment with the respect it deserves, and to making the hiking experience a safe and enjoyable one for all,” he said. Baird’s widow Kernesha Baird she was pleased with the board’s decision.
“My husband was an avid hiker for a long time. I never liked it because I don’t like the bush. “I think it was carelessness on their (Island Hikers/Fitness Walkers) part because they were supposed to give an account for everybody. They were supposed to be in a group and do a head count when everybody is leaving. They did not do that,” she told Newsday.