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Salvage bid a deadly folly

MATTHEW GRAY
Last updated 07:51 04/12/2012

BLOG: Dam workers scrambling over slippery rocks to try to rescue William Fenney were amazed to find him alive.

It was December 16, 1914 and their 23-year-old mate had slipped about 30 metres over the top of the Lower Nihotupu waterfall along with a truck and a pile of debris.

But their relief at finding him still breathing was shortlived. William was gravely injured and died soon after being removed from the scene and taken to a nearby house.

The men were all labourers assisting with the construction of a new water reservoir.

William and a co-worker named Andrew Neill were carting loads of rock when the truck - most likely a wagon type of vehicle that could be led by a horse or used on a tramline - slipped over the lip of the waterfall on to a ledge below.

Both men surveyed the scene and debated a course of action.

William was keen to climb down and tie a rope around the truck that could be secured to a beam to avoid further slippage.

Andrew warned him against it, saying the truck could continue its descent at any moment and should be avoided at all cost.

William was adamant he could do the job and got Andrew to lower him down on a piece of rope.

But his salvage efforts quickly went awry when he attempted to move the truck.

The clay and wet soil underfoot gave way and everything on it fell.

William's body was eventually taken to Titirangi for a coroner's inquest.

The right leg was badly fractured and a doctor called in as part of the process also found a deep head wound.

Both injuries, coupled with shock, had led to death, he said.

A coroner said the accident was avoidable and pointed out that all safety practices were ignored during the salvage attempt. But the deceased became the author of his own demise when he attempted to move the truck in such a volatile setting.

William was the son of Henry and Mary Jane Fenney who lived on a farm in Henderson.

He was buried at Waikumete Cemetery and his workmates pooled resources to buy the tombstone that still stands there today.

- Western Leader

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