Drowned man slipped out of friend's arms

A Kaiapoi man who drowned near Murchison last year slipped out of the arms of his colleagues as they tried to haul him from the fast-flowing river.

A coroner's report on the death of Ian Oliver Randall, 39, has confirmed he died of accidental drowning after slipping from a bank.

In the early afternoon of September 30, 2011, Randall and a group of workmates left Kaiapoi to go to Nelson for a Rugby World Cup game.

The trip was a reward for the Clemence Drilling Contractors employees, who had been working long hours since the February earthquake maintaining the council water supply.

The group stopped at Maruia Falls about 5.30pm for a break, and Randall and a colleague headed up to the lookout point over the river.

Wanting a closer look at the waterfall, the two men climbed over a waist-high guard rail and headed down a rough, narrow path that had been formed by people who had previously climbed over the rail.

Randall lost his footing on some rocks and slipped into the fast-flowing river below.

He managed to cling to a rock, and a colleague grabbed his other hand while shouting for help. However, the force of the water pulled him from his friend's grip.

With the help of another workmate, they managed to grasp him for a second time, but he slipped from their arms.

They lost sight of Randall as he was swept away over the 11-metre drop of the Maruia Falls.

He surfaced moments later, "motionless with blood on his face", before disappearing from sight.

An extensive search was launched, with kayakers, a helicopter, a jet boat and Land Search and Rescue staff. Randall's body was found submerged in the water the next morning.

An autopsy confirmed he had drowned but had also suffered a head injury that left him unconscious before his death. A toxicology report showed he had a blood-alcohol level of 141 milligrams to 100 millilitres.

While Randall's intoxicated state did not affect the cause of death, the coroner said, it may have affected his judgment and reaction time when he was running over the rocks before his slip.

Coroner Carla na Nagara said: "It may well be his judgment and co-ordination were affected by the level of alcohol in his system, although his colleagues noted he did not seem particularly drunk."

Randall was from England but had lived in New Zealand for four years and has two children living in the North Island.

At the time of Randall's death, his boss, Dave Clemence, told Fairfax he was a "top, smart guy".

He had told Randall on the journey from Christchurch that he would love the Maruia Falls, and the company planned to stop and have a barbecue there.

"I said: 'You will love this Ian; this is right up your alley'. When we got there he just took off. Ian being Ian, he was off like a little kid," Clemence said.

"He just ran out. One slip is all it takes. A couple of the boys held on to him, but the water just took him away. It was pretty traumatic."
Since Randall's death, a large sign has been erected beyond the barrier, reading: "Danger, do not go down to the falls. Lives have been lost."

The coroner said Randall's death was the result of an accident, "attributable primarily to the choices he made in crossing the safety barrier and rushing down on to the rocks above the waterfall".

"The steps taken by the Department of Conservation in erecting signs to reinforce the danger of going to the top of the falls are to be commended and may help reduce the chances of future similar deaths," he said.

The Press