17 October 2021

Teenage girl airlifted to Sydney after freak accident at Kambah Adventure Playground 'very lucky to be alive'

| James Coleman
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Janelle Cirina and Tahlia Floyer

Janelle Cirina and 14-year-old daughter Tahlia Floyer. Photo: Janelle Cirina.

A freak accident at Kambah Adventure Playground last month saw a 14-year-old girl airlifted to Westmead Hospital in Sydney with a broken spine. Her mother is now calling for a risk assessment of the popular flying fox equipment.

On 11 September, Tahlia Floyer reached the end of the flying fox with such force she flipped into the air and crash-landed on her head and neck, breaking three vertebrae.

Her two friends immediately realised something was wrong and rushed over from the other end of the flying fox to help when a passerby called out for them not to move her.

Flying fox

Flying fox at the Kambah Adventure Playground. Photo: File.

The passerby, a woman, immobilised Tahlia while another woman with medical experience approached the scene to help.

They phoned for an ambulance and called both of Tahlia’s parents.

Janelle Cirina was out of range at the time but gobsmacked when she did find out, saying that – of her three kids – Tahlia was the least likely to take risks.

“She has always been the quietest one, and then to hear that this happened to her – I couldn’t process it.”

Janelle says that at this point in the lockdown, Tahlia was missing her friends and agreed to meet them outdoors.

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What happened next was the last thing “you would think would have happened at a children’s playground”.

Canberra Health Services established she had broken the T11, T12, and T1 vertebrae in her back and that she should be sent to Sydney for surgery.

Tahlia’s surgeon at Westmead Hospital described her as “very lucky to still be alive”. She is now back at her home in Urila, about an hour’s drive from Canberra, with six screws in her back and a fused spine.

“She’s got a brace that’s been tailor-made for her. If she doesn’t have that on, she can’t move.”

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The family will return to Westmead in two weeks to assess how the repair is going. A less restrictive brace may need to be made, one that she will wear for six to 12 months.

“She’s had a few really down days,” Janelle says. “I just really need to look out for her mental health at the moment.”

Janelle herself feels “really disgruntled by the whole thing”.

“You go through a range of emotions. Grief, followed by anger, and you think, ‘How can this possibly happen?’ My two older children are quite daring – they jump out of planes. My son fell out of a five-metre tree being silly, and they’ve always been fine.”

Janelle Cirina and family

Janelle Cirina and her three children. Photo: Janelle Cirina.

She has since put in a complaint to the ACT Government but has yet to receive a response.

“Even Tahlia wrote in to describe what happened to her and how she feels about it. Surely these things face a risk assessment from time to time, to work out if things need to be changed.”

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Janelle has since posted to Facebook to find the ‘good Samaritans’ who rushed to her daughter’s aid, saying that “we cannot express enough gratitude for your quick thinking and extraordinary act of kindness”. She has been in contact with one of the women.

“It was really on my mind to thank those women because it could have been a very different outcome if her friends had run down and just pulled her up.”

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If a kid falls out of a tree are we also going to demand the government does a risk assessment and remove them?

Gerry Satrapa11:41 am 22 Oct 21

FYI- students are banned from climbing trees on school grounds after an incident several years ago at Lyneham Primary School where a child died.

Gerry Satrapa11:47 am 22 Oct 21

Edit – Brindabella Christian School, 2001

Kids being kids have died in swimming pools, at the beach, in cars, off bicycles and in every other place and way it is possible to have an accident. They need to run, jump, skip, climb, slide, be adventurous, explore, have fun, take risks and scrape their knees. The greater risk to kids is interfering over-protective nanny-state adults who want to sanitise their world. The result will be neurotic, fearful, risk averse children who will turn into neurotic, fearful, risk averse adults.

James-T-Kirk6:25 pm 21 Oct 21

I hope she is ok. This is a terrible accident.

And that’s what it is, and accident.

You can break vertebrae in your neck from a fall of as little as 3 feet if you land at exactly the correct angle.

If they risk assess it, then the rating will end up above ‘LOW’, which is the ACT Government’s risk threshold and it will be removed – Just like the Gordon Pond one… Remember it?

Risk is a reality of the world. Kids learn about risks by being exposed to life – I broke my toe by playing netball in a freak accident. Fortunately, nobody has risk assessed the netball courts at most schools to remove them.

The last thing I want my grandkids kids to be exposed to is a playground made from rubber, where the highest surface is 0.7m above the ground and where you have to wear a safety harness and have OH&S supervision.

Again – I hope she is ok – it is simply a terrible accident.

Claire O'Brien7:37 pm 20 Oct 21

My sister broke her back on this same flying fox in the late 80s/early 90s. The drop is too high in areas. My daughter did national level gymnastics for years, but I wouldn’t let her on it. Do your own risk assessment as a parent. Sorry to hear another young person broke their back.

when i was 7 or 8 i had a accident on the small flying fox and had to be taken to hospital to have 15 stiches put in my chin as my top teeth went though my lower jaw i had to be held down this was before the tyres were on either end and it was my uncle pushing me my dad was pushing my sister who was 8 at the time so we were not being silly at all the speed just went fast and i fell
sometimes accidents happen and this does not mean anyone was doing anything wrong at the time but things might need to be changed over time the big flying foxes has been there for over 30 years and maybe the slope has changed and needs to be evaluated if this is not the first accident that has happened i wish the young lady a full recovery

Stephanie De Hoog1:57 pm 19 Oct 21

My son also fell onto his back from this flying fox, I’m grateful that he wasn’t seriously injured and I hope this little girl is ok. I would also love to see it re-engineered to change the sharp stop at the end and add some soft fall underneath.

Penelope Farnsworth11:49 pm 18 Oct 21

I thought it was removed for a while during the insurance “crisis”, but maybe it was another playground. They gutted a few after risk assessments.

The previous iteration of the kambah flying fox had stairs to climb and a rope to bring it up to the platform. It was more a flying fox. Not sure how someone hurts themselves so badly on this unless the ground isn’t as soft as the tanbark used to be.

Also used to have a treehouse at Kambah that was cool. However removed as often it was burned down. Nothing to replace it has ever lived up to the original.

Hope the lady recovers well

Tahlia is one of the most intelligent 14 year olds I have ever met.
She’s incredibly cautious when it comes to risk assessment, and headstrong; she is not one to succumb to peer pressure nor be reckless.
Her dad and I were there as the ambulance came and he has been by her side every single day since the accident, taking weeks (unpaid weeks) to care for her. He not I would change it for the world to be there for her.
We believe that this flying Fox is dangerous. Her dad and I are risk takers as we race MTB, so we understand the meaning of “at your own risk” very well.
This is not a call to remove the flying Fox, but to make it safer for all children to enjoy by up keeping maintenance and to adjust it to slow down at the ends rather than an abrupt and aggressive half.
Thank you Janelle for making this a known issue for all.

It is so good that her family can be there for her.
I know her mum will fight like a tiger to ensure that this flying fox is reassessed.
As Kane-Ps has mentioned a few times previously, this is either the second or third broken back incident in three months. This obviously shows that an urgent reassessment is needed for the safety. So many people making comments about bubble wrapping the equipment. It’s not about that at all. It’s about the users of the flying fox not ending up dead or paralysed.

What would the adventure playground be without adventure?

If she finished with such force she flipped upside down, it sounds like her friends pushed her as hard as they could. All good, I do the same with my son.

Accidents happen, don’t screw it up for everyone else. I’m sure this flying fox is nowhere near as dangerous as the tyre used to be which is now also removed.

Sorry for your daughter, but borrriiinnggg

It was not a freak accident. This is at least the second and possibly third broken back from the flying fox in only three months. I witnessed two of them – one was my friend in July who her broke her T2. Tahlia is either the second that I witnessed, or she is a third. In three months.

This is well beyond ‘at your own risk’ and is an inherent risk. It is 3 metres high, at great speed, with only handholds and upper body strength. The height and handles were change only a couple of years ago.

For those arguing against action to address the risk – there are options between ‘do nothing’ and ‘get rid of it’. If it had even the round seat the other much smller flying fox has, so leg and arm strength could be used, these life threatening and life changing injuries would be almost impossible.

The ACT government has not replied to a single report or complaint after at least two broken spines. Continued inaction is wilful continuation of risk.

Kane P-s I had also heard of these other accidents. I wasn’t able to find any other information on them. Are you able to advise please? I agree, the flying fox needs to be assessed.

Hi Brianna. My friend is a super fit, 38 yr old 55kg single mother, nurse. Admitted to Canberra hospital for emergency T12 surgery (not T2 above) on 25 July 2021. Exactly the same vertebra that Tahlia broke some two months later on exactly the same ride. I also saw someone come off and get stretchered off on a backboard around August or September, which may have been Tahlia or not. Canberra Hospital aid my friend was not the first broken spine. And may be able to provide de-identified data on admissions citing Kambah flying fox.

I’m 70 now, but when our sons were young I have ridden that flying fox,

I’ve ridden ‘flying-foxes’ in jungle a few times – in ‘FSMO’ ie with a pack, food, water bottles, rifle and ammo and didn’t get hurt.

And they all had steeper slopes and were longer.


Did the lass run at it?

In the last 25 years I have been in Kambah, thousands of children have enjoyed using that Flying Fox. I would hate to see it got rid of just because of one freak accident. I agree, signage should be on it to warn users, but not having it removed. I am truly sorry this girl had an accident, but the minute you take your feet off the ground, there is the possibility of an accident on any playground equipment. Are we going to get rid of all playground and sports equipment due to the possibility of an accident?

Keng, I believe the mother is asking for it to be assessed and not removed. I also believe an assessment is needed as the flying fox may be too high and this is the third incident this year.

Paula Simcocks2:03 pm 18 Oct 21

Think it should be safe enough that 14 yr olds can use it without parental
Supervision. Independent play is probably more valuable than the need to go 3 more metres or whatever took it to the dangerous level.

It would seams to have undergone a very effective practical risk assessment in that thousands of kids have used those flying foxes (and other similar ones) for many years.

Yes minor injuries happen, often through intentional misuse but ones of this scale seem thankfully rare.

Anyone who has ever ridden one or watched people do so can immediately see that a chance of injury does exists. In a similar way, many slides, those spider web climbing things, monkey bars etc all have a risk of significant injury.

It is important that parents perform a risk assessment to determine whether they are willing to let their child play on such equipment,

Sorry to hear about Tahlia’s accident and wishing her a full recovery. However, removing the flying fox in light of this incident would be an overreaction. A better solution would be signage encouraging users to consider the risk and start with smaller swings before launching onto it with enough force to flip into the air

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