Rescue hero haunted by Jan's death

TRACY NEAL
Last updated 13:00 13/12/2013
Philip Walker and Kyle Paki Paki
LIFE SAVERS: Philip Walker and Kyle Paki Paki involved in the rescue of occupants of the fatal car plunge into Saltwater Creek in July.

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A Nelson man involved in a dramatic rescue of two people from a sunken car in which Janice Fa'avae died said the event would remain with him for the rest of his life.

Kyle Paki Paki said following the release yesterday of the coroner's report, that he and others could take some solace from the fact they helped save Mrs Fa'avae's husband and his grandson, but he still struggled with the accident in July this year.

Coroner Christopher Devonport's report revealed a valiant effort by Mrs Fa'avae's husband Filemoni [Phil] Fa'avae, who was a passenger in the car and who tried to stop it, after it was clear that something was seriously wrong with his wife at the wheel.

Mrs Fa'avae was found to have drowned after suffering an acute medical event, possibly a seizure or heart attack while at the wheel of the car, which plunged into Salt Water Creek near the Trafalgar Centre.

Mr Devonport has applauded the heroic efforts of the rescuers who saved the life of two year-old Ali Fa'avae-Mika and his grandfather, Mr Fa'avae. Mr Devonport said in findings released yesterday that Mrs Fa'avae, 69, suffered a medical event while driving which resulted in her losing consciousness. She then drowned when the vehicle left the road and was submerged in a tidal creek.

On July 13 this year Mrs Fa'avae, known as Jan, was driving her husband and grandson from Port Nelson, and was travelling east on Wildman Ave towards Queen Elizabeth II Drive. The car veered across the highway at the Wildman Ave intersection, across the grass and plunged into the creek. It was high tide at the time.

The car was seen to be driven erratically, narrowly missing other vehicles, and was on the wrong side of the road on Wildman Ave as it approached the intersection with QEII Drive.

About 200 metres before the intersection, Mr Fa'avae noticed his wife was partially on the wrong side of the road, but said she was all right when he asked.

"He soon noticed that the vehicle was again on the wrong side of the road and he yelled to her but got no response," Mr Devonport said.

Mr Fa'avae grabbed the steering wheel and tried to apply the brakes, but the car crossed the highway, mounted the kerb and crossed the grass verge. He steered the vehicle into a tree, but after hitting it the car went down the bank into the creek, which was about four metres deep at the time.

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Mr Fa'avae managed to push his passenger side door open and get out with the help of Mr Paki Paki, who had seen the car go into the creek, and immediately dived in.

The Nelson rugby team manager was quickly joined by Nelson paua diver Philip Walker who was also driving past with his family, British tourist Adam Black and Nelson man Gary Miller, who was driving home to Atawhai at that moment.

Mr Paki Paki was eventually able to haul Ali from the rear passenger seat, after a considerable effort to smash the window and dive down to unbuckle him from his child safety seat.

Mr Walker then got Ali to shore and the pair, with the help of the other rescuers, tried to reach Mrs Fa'avae.

Mr Walker, who eventually helped free her after the trauma of discovering her in the driver's seat in water too murky to see her, said at the time he did all he could.

There were many others on the scene who assisted those on shore and directing traffic as emergency services arrived and took over.

Pathologist Mark Houghton said Mrs Fa'avae's death was consistent with drowning, and that her history suggested she suffered a preceding medical event with impaired loss of consciousness, although he could not determine this with certainty. He considered a seizure or an acute cardiac event most likely had occurred.

The coroner said she died at the scene.

Mr Paki Paki struggles with the idea there was a small chance she might have been saved, and the events would remain with him for the rest of his life, but he was also proud of what everyone did to help that day.

"I've struggled through this, and it's been really hard, but other people's lives were saved, and that's what I'm running on," Mr Paki Paki said.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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