Otago and Southland coroner David Crerar said evidence presented during an inquest for a 15-year-old who died after his foot became lodged in a narrow chasm under a waterfall was the most harrowing he had heard in 33 years.
Dion William Latta, of Palmerston, died on January 2 in Dunedin Hospital. He had been airlifted from Wanaka's Motatapu Gorge after becoming trapped upside down in a waterfall for more than three hours on New Year's Day.
Dion had been exploring the gorge with friends when he become trapped at the top of a waterfall under the river flow.
Attempts to free him by his friends and members of the public were unsuccessful because of the "hydraulics of the water" pinning him.
At an inquest held in Alexandra yesterday, Senior Constable and Land Search and Rescue swift-water rescue team member Michael Johnston, of Wanaka, said after responding to an emergency callout and arriving at the waterfall, "the scene that presented itself was one I met with disbelief".
At the top of the 2-to-3-metre waterfall he could see Dion's foot sticking out above the water and the silhouette of his body covered by the main waterflow of the fall.
Dion was alive and was breathing from a pocket of air between the waterfall and rock.
His right leg was wedged between two rocks and his upper body had gone over the waterfall backwards. Dion had twisted at the pelvis so his torso and head were facing the rock face with the water flowing over his back.
The area was a popular swimming spot and was the "typical . . . playground that adventurous people go exploring and cool off on a hot summer's day", Mr Johnston said.
Amputating Dion's trapped limb was considered, but the general
medical opinion was that the shock involved would cause only more trauma.
A large rescue response team and helicopter arrived at the scene.
A lowering system was put in place that allowed Mr Johnston to dive low enough under the swift water to attach a sling around Dion's trapped foot, which was about 1.5m below water.
Once freed Dion quickly lost consciousness.
After a pulse could not be detected, CPR was started and he was winched from the gorge as it continued.
He was flown to hospital in a critical condition at 10.45pm and was showing signs for life but died in the early hours of the morning. A pathologist report found Dion died from immersion hypothermia.
Mr Johnston said the rescue team was "shell shocked and mentally and physically drained at the days end" because it had been the third search and rescue that day.
A 60-year-old climber was killed after he fell near Mt Twilight, and a woman needed to be rescued from the Motatapu River after dislocating her knee.
The coroner said that in his 33 years of work he had not heard evidence "quite so harrowing" as that into the death of Dion.
He reserved his formal findings to be in writing.
Dion's parents Logan and Sue declined to comment further after the hearing but said "he was fighting. He wanted to live his life".
More than 2600 people have joined three Facebook tribute pages set up for Dion after his death.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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