A KOKODA tour operator has called for prospective trekkers to pass mandatory fitness checks in a bid to reduce the number of deaths along the arduous track.
Charlie Lynn, the tour operator of Adventure Kokoda, says it is clear that urgent action is needed after the deaths of two Australians in the past week.
Sydney man Phillip Brunskill, 55, died from a suspected heart attack on Sunday after walking the track for just an hour. He was the fourth person this year to die while attempting the trek.
Mr Lynn said Mr Brunskill had a positive medical check before his trip but a short way into the track, he agreed he was not fit to tackle the 96km journey.
“We had received a full medical clearance because we have a fairly strict regime,” Mr Lynn told ABC radio yesterday.
“But he hadn’t prepared himself physically as well as he should have.
“Our trek leader is very, very experienced. He is a former army major.
“In the first hour of the trek – it only started yesterday – he spoke with Mr Brunskill and he said in his view he was not fit to complete the journey.
“After the first hour, the trekker agreed with him and they suggested he would return to the start, so a team was allocated to take him back.
“A vehicle was arranged to take him back to the lodge. During that climb, he complained that he felt weak and he collapsed.
“They applied CPR, they got a stretcher and took him to the top but, unfortunately, he passed away in the vehicle on the way to the hospital.”
Mr Lynn said some trekkers failed to realise they were going to tackle a “hazardous, remote, physically challenging environment”.
“You have a responsibility to ensure you are physically well prepared. By that, I mean a training regime for at least three to six months.
“That involves at least an hour’s training for five days a week.”
Mr Lynn said trekkers needed to realise it was not easy to rescue those in physical distress.
“Our people are trained to advance first aid but there is no guarantee you can get off the trail itself if you get into trouble,” Mr Lynn said.
“Sometimes we cannot get through to the phones, sometimes helicopters are not available.
“You have got to look at each of the risks and minimise them.”
Mr Lynn, who has led 56 Kokoda expeditions, said: “Some of the queries we get indicate how people know nothing about the conditions up here.
“If you’re struggling in the first hour, it’s a pretty clear indication you have not done any preparation.”
He supported calls for more stringent regulation.
“The Kokoda Track Authority recently set up their licencing system for tour operators and it does not require a medical check.
“I think that’s a dereliction of duty,” he said.
The Australian federal government has also been told it has a responsibility to make the track safe.
Tasmanian Liberal Guy Barnett, who tackled the track last year, told the senate in August he had grave reservations about its safety.
No mandatory industry standards are in place at present.
More than 6,000 Australians visit the track each year. – AAP