Inquiry report released into the death of Sergeant Gary Francis
12 November 2015
The Department of Defence today released an Inspector General Australian Defence Force inquiry report into the circumstances surrounding the tragic death of Sergeant Gary Francis during a mountaineering training activity in New Zealand.
On 16 July 2014 SGT Francis, a member of the Australian Army’s 2 Commando Regiment, was leading a Special Forces Mountain and Cold Weather Operations course on the Grand Plateau in Mount Cook National Park.
While members of the course were undertaking a crevasse rescue lesson, SGT Francis and another team member looked nearby for a suitable site for an ice climbing activity.
They were moving on skis with SGT Francis in the lead probing the snow when, without warning, SGT Francis fell 40 metres through an ice bridge into a crevasse.
The other members of the course quickly moved to rescue SGT Francis. It took approximately 30 minutes to recover SGT Francis in an efficient, effective and highly professional manner in very difficult, uncertain and traumatic circumstances.
Team members worked tirelessly to administer first aid until Westpac air ambulance personnel arrived. Despite the best efforts of all, the inquiry determined it was probable that SGT Francis died soon after he fell into the crevasse.
The inquiry found that SGT Francis did not breach any Defence doctrine or guidance, and acted in accordance with standard operating procedures and practices for mountaineers. There was also no evidence that SGT Francis' death resulted from any organisational or systemic weaknesses in Defence practice and procedures.
The inquiry made four recommendations which Defence has implemented. These related to updating risk management guidance and supplementing current doctrine, combined rather than individual unit training and that a Commission of Inquiry was not warranted.
Sergeant Francis was a highly experienced and qualified mountaineer with 22 years service in the Royal Marines and five years service with the Australian Army. His peers considered him one of the best mountaineers in Australia and the Southern Hemisphere.
Defence extends its deepest sympathy to SGT Francis’ family, friends and colleagues in Australia and the United Kingdom.
The redacted inquiry report is available at: www.defence.gov.au/Publications/COI/
Defence Media – (02) 6127 1999