Dying man refused 'unaffordable' help

Last updated 05:00 28/03/2009

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A dying paraglider pilot refused an ambulance for 40 minutes after a crash landing because he thought he could not afford it, the Christchurch Coroner's Court heard this week.

John Winiata, 44, died after falling 15 to 20 metres while paragliding on Christchurch's Port Hills on December 2, 2008.

Constable Dion Kitchin, of the Christchurch police, told the court that two witnesses, Daniel Litherland and Gareth Jones, had rushed to the scene of the crash.

Kitchin said Winiata believed an ambulance would cost him money and asked for one not to be called, despite telling Litherland he was "f.....".

In echoes of the death of British actress Natasha Richardson, the late wife of Liam Neeson, Winiata said he just wanted to "catch his breath" before returning home. He also reported injuries to his bottom and knee.

Because he showed no signs of getting better, emergency services were called after 35 to 45 minutes. A helicopter arrived, followed by an ambulance.

They were too late. Winiata "deteriorated rapidly" soon after the arrival of paramedics and died at the scene.

Pathologist Professor Robin Fraser told the court Winiata died of internal bleeding.

If a person was injured they should not have "bravado" or "bravery". If paramedics had been called earlier it might have made a difference, he said.

However, he was unsure if this applied in Winiata's case.

Fraser said the case was similar to that of Richardson. After a fall on a Canadian ski slope, she refused medical treatment. However, she was admitted to hospital about seven hours after the fall and died.

The court heard Winiata, of Linwood Ave, Christchurch, returned to paragliding after several years away from the sport. His equipment was old and would have offered little impact protection, but would have passed a warrant of fitness test.

A strong northwesterly wind blowing through the Port Hills caused the turbulence that made the paraglider collapse. Winiata did not have enough time to react before smashing into the ground in a seated position.

After paragliding experts and police gave evidence, Coroner Richard McElrea said Winiata "made an error of judgment" in deciding to paraglide in the conditions and in resisting attempts to call emergency services. McElrea noted, "No fault lies with the two witnesses that came to his assistance".

Winiata knew he was "quite seriously injured by the comments he made", McElrea said.

He said it was "regrettable that he resisted the calling of emergency services".

"Obvious lessons" could be learned from the case as there was "no cost to the person" requiring an ambulance in this case as it was covered by ACC.

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However, in non-accident callouts patients are charged $50.

Outside the hearing, Winiata's daughter Hannah Winiata, 18, said her father was a "good dad" and "always very safety-conscious". "He was fixing up his house so me and my son could move in."

Commenting about her father's refusal to get help, she said he was always stubborn.

"He thought the ambulance was going to cost money and didn't want to pay. He just thought he was OK."

- The Press

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