WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Fifteen people plunged to their deaths Friday when a cliff-side viewing platform collapsed on New Zealand's west coast.
The victims fell on rocks at the bottom of a deep limestone shaft where water flows into an underground cavern, according to officials at the Paparoa National Park.
Police said four people were taken to a hospital in the nearby town of Greymouth suffering serious injuries after an arduous rescue operation. Five others survived with minor injuries.
The victims were students who were visiting Cave Creek on a geology field trip in the rugged national park.
"Once it tilted, the platform then collapsed on top of those persons, who'd fallen 100 or so feet and landed on rocks," Senior Police Sgt. Phil Deazley said.
Prime Minister Jim Bolger expressed his condolences to the victims' families and announced an independent inquiry into New Zealand's worst disaster in nearly 30 years.