Badian canyoneering death puts poor communication signal in focus

Badian canyoneering death puts poor communication signal in focus
SunStar Local News GPX

AN IRISH national’s death while participating in a canyoneering activity Thursday has laid bare the communication and other challenges involved in engaging in Badian town’s most popular tourism activity.

This, after Badian’s Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (MDRRMO) denied Friday that the delay in its response caused the death of a 26-year-old female from Ireland who experienced chest pains during her canyoneering activity in Barangay Sulsogan in the southwestern Cebu town on Thursday, May 2, 2024.

The victim was said to have completed two jumps before suddenly experiencing chest pains at around 11 a.m.

According to the initial investigation of the Badian police headed by station commander Captain Jerwin Mark Battung, it was already around 1 p.m. when Badian rescue personnel arrived in the area that the victim was taken to the Badian District Hospital, where attending physician Dr. Porferio Ferolin pronounced her dead due to acute myocardial infarction or a heart attack.

It was said that the victim’s companions struggled to contact the municipality for help because of a poor communication signal.

Clydiejun Baratbate, officer of Badian’s MDRRMO, acknowledged that communication may be a problem in the area but said there was no delay in their response. Baratbate said they received a report on the incident past 12 noon already, whereupon its personnel immediately rushed to help.

“When we received the call, we immediately dispatched our ambulance,” Baratbate said in Cebuano in a phone interview on Friday, May 3.

Baratbate said MDRRMO personnel tried to revive the victim several times but failed. The victim was then taken to the hospital.

Far away

Baratbate, however, admitted that the canyoneering site was 12 kilometers from the MDRRMO and that the signal for communication in that area was slow.

“When the team arrived at the third level of canyoneering, they waited for the patient there. But she wasn’t there. So someone continued to the third level, and then another team went to the first and second level jumps,” the MDRRMO official said.

According to Baratbate, apart from cellphone communication in the area, they had already requested more handheld radios as an alternative way of calling first responders to the tourist sites.

“The reception of the signal is not good here because you still have to go up a bit (to get a signal)... We have also requested an antenna because we’ve observed that in canyoneering, especially level two, is very low already, so we can’t get through to our repeater. So there must be a base radio at the entrance,” Baratbate said in Cebuano.

It is unclear when the MDRRMO sought this equipment.

The MDRRMO official added that according to their protocol, the life guards are the first responders if anything untoward should happen to visitors during their canyoneering activities.

Only in Kawasan

Also on Friday, Badian tourism officer Earl Vincent Endab told SunStar Cebu that there is no mobile signal or internet connection available throughout the entire stretch of the canyoneering activities, except at the first and second levels of Kawasan Falls.

He said the Department of Tourism with the Department of Information and Communications Technology and the local government unit put up an internet connection in Kawasan Falls’ first two levels last year before the tourist attraction reopened in October 2023.

The Provincial Government had suspended canyoneering activities in Barangay Matutinao in June 2023 to clear the area of abandoned debris and damaged structures left from 2021’s super typhoon Odette, and to train the tour and canyoneering guides of Kawasan Falls in occupational first aid training, basic life support training and service training.

The victim was still midway through her canyoneering activity and had not yet reached Kawasan Falls, which is at the end of the activity.

Safety measures

Despite the absence of a mobile signal or internet connection along the canyoneering stretch, Endab said safety measures are in place. These include the deployment of three life guards equipped with handheld radios to contact emergency responders when necessary.

“As far as I know, they were able to contact emergency response because I was also informed by my staff there,” said Endab.

Endab said three lifeguards are stationed along the canyoneering stretch, with an additional three stationed in the Kawasan Falls area. They are all equipped and trained to provide first aid response.

However, he said the case of the Irish national might have been beyond the lifeguards’ expertise.

“Her case was already serious. I think in layman’s terms, it was really a cardiac arrest where she suddenly collapsed and turned pale,” he said.

He said they were lucky enough to have another group pass by that had a doctor who helped the guides because the town’s guides, although trained in first aid, are trained only for minor cases like injuries.

Waiver

Endab said they require canyoneering operators to require tourists to sign a waiver and disclose their medical history before joining the extreme activity.

In the waiver, tourists who plan to go canyoneering must disclose any respiratory problems, blood disorders and physical or sensory limitations, among others.

“We acknowledge that canyoneering is an extreme activity, and we don’t want tourists to engage in it just because they want to, but they should also be aware that there are certain actions involved that are truly extreme,” Endab said.

He added that the Irish national, together with her female friend, joined a group that went canyoneering.

The Badian canyoneering trip is at most a three-hour eco-adventure in a secluded setting where access to modern hospital facilities is not immediately accessible.

Hardship

The waiver form informs tourists that the canyoneering activity will last for about three hours.

Answering “yes” to a list of ailments under the general medical history does not mean that the participant will not be able to do the canyoneering activity. Providing their answers, the waiver indicates, can “make it easier for your tour guides to assist you in any circumstances.”

The waiver form also discloses the hardships when doing canyoneering. It said sudden environmental changes are to be expected.

“You may come along uneven, slippery and steep terrain. You might also be swimming against strong water current and experience long tough trail,” reads a portion of the waiver.

Whether the victim filled out this waiver is unclear. / DGL, ANV, WBS

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