Six-hour ordeal in ditch

JENNA LYNCH AND FLORENCE KERR
Last updated 05:00 21/11/2013
John Wellman
BEN CURRAN/Fairfax NZ
REUNITED: John Wellman was rescued after spending six hours down a bank when he fell from his mobility scooter, an ordeal that ended when James Miller heard his cries for help.

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To fall three metres down a bank and come out the other side with only a few scratches is lucky.

To be stuck there for six hours on a rainy November evening and not even have a sniffle is remarkable.

But 82-year-old John Wellman, Tokoroa, said although the thought of death flicked through his mind briefly during his ordeal he was never going to let the situation beat him.

"After about five or six hours you're tired and you just about give up on it," he said, but the thought persisted: "I've got to get back up somehow."

As the rain poured down on Tuesday night he could hear the nearby creek begin to fill.

Ensnared by gorse and blackberry bushes, his attempts to climb back up to the road would prove fruitless - until he heard the voice of 13-year-old James Miller, who was among the searchers.

At 6pm that evening, Wellman had travelled the path from Papanui Street to Richmond Avenue, a route he and his trusty mobility scooter had traversed many times before. It had been raining on and off since lunchtime that day.

As he drove along the gravel path his wheel slipped, toppling him and his scooter down the bank and into a ditch where he remained for six hours.

"Once you go down about five to six feet there's no way you are getting back up," a now relieved Wellman told the Waikato Times from his Tokoroa home.

"I sang out for help for several hours, but there was nothing forthcoming because people couldn't hear."

But at 11pm James and his dad joined Wellman's grandson Jeff Southby in his search for the elderly man, an action that probably saved the pensioner's life.

"When I first heard him, I heard him calling out. I told dad and we ran around and saw the scooter," James said.

The teenager said he felt relief when he saw the elderly man was alive.

The family raised the alert and soon after, Wellman was pulled to safety by the Tokoroa Fire Brigade.

Tokoroa Chief Fire Officer Dave Morris said Wellman was a "really, really lucky man."

He said the fact that his family noticed he was missing was absolutely crucial to his survival.

"There's guys out there that age who live alone and probably no-one would have noticed they were missing for ages," he said.

It was a wake-up call for families with elders, Morris said.

"If they've got elderly people with them, just keep an eye on them in the evening, especially if they are heading out."

Southby was ecstatic his grandfather managed to survive the fall.

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"It is bloody good he is back and that is the main thing.

"I would like to thank all the strangers who came out to help us."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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