Rescuers who tried to free boy praised

GWYNETH HYNDMAN
Last updated 05:00 01/12/2012

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Rescuers who attempted to free a 15-year-old boy trapped under a waterfall near Wanaka on New Year's Day were commended for their tenacity and bravery by Otago and Southland Coroner David Crerar in the inquest findings report, released yesterday.

Formal findings at the inquest established that Dion William Latta died of immersion hypothermia.

Mr Crerar was so impressed by the rescue attempt he has recommended a copy of his findings be forwarded to the police commissioner and the Royal Humane Society to ensure the personnel involved be recognised for their courage.

His report says although he does not attribute responsibility to the Department of Conservation - and notes the upgrade of the signage at Motatapu Gorge, which warns walkers of its dangers - he is requesting the department review signage at the gorge to emphasise the extreme hazard presented by the steep and slippery rocks and the swift cold water.

Mr Crerar singles out the efforts of Wanaka Senior Constable Michael Ian Johnston and those who "worked valiantly" to try to save Dion on January 1, after he fell backwards over a waterfall, lodging his leg in the rocks.

Multiple attempts were made to get Dion out but because of the force of the water and the slippery rocks, rescuers could not initially free him. Amputation was considered but it was believed the trauma would be too much of a shock.

When Dion was extricated after three hours, he was chilled and shocked, though conscious.

He was taken to Dunedin Hospital by helicopter, but died early the next morning.

Dion had been described by rescuers as "a fighter," Mr Crerar says.

"He had hung, upside down, suspended by his leg from a waterfall for approximately three hours and survived. Even after being in that position for more than two hours, he was able to respond to rescuers. His tenacity and bravery is commendable."

He also praised others present for their bravery during the rescue.

"In addition to admiring the courage of Dion, I also admire the bravery of the rescuers and in particular that of Constable Johnston. In hazardous circumstances and with a disregard to their personal safety, Constable Johnston (and those others present) worked valiantly to recover Dion from his predicament."

He also extended his condolences to Dion's family and friends.

In October, Mr Crerar said the evidence presented during the inquest was the most harrowing he had heard in 33 years.

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- The Southland Times

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