Girl survived 80 minutes trapped in car
MARTIN VAN BEYNEN
Coroner Richard McElrea says an accident in which 9-year-old Tayne Bowes drowned on the West Coast in a submerged vehicle was fortunate to have claimed only one fatality.
McElrea, sitting in the Greymouth District Court, today adjourned an inquest and reserved his finding after it heard evidence into Tayne's death on August 12 last year when his father's Toyota Hilux flipped on a mining road about 7 kilometres inland from Hokitika.
The vehicle landed upside down in a pond used for adjusting water levels.
Tayne, who was in the front seat of the vehicle, drowned although his sister Keira, 8, survived after being in the submerged vehicle for about two hours.
She was rescued by police who spent 80* minutes at the scene before discovering Keira about 8.40pm.
McElrea said the accident could easily have claimed more lives and "everyone was hugely upset" that Tayne had died.
Geoffrey Thomas Jacobs, a goldminer and manager of Paramount Mining, in a statement to the court apologised to Tayne's parents who were present.
Never in his wildest nightmares had he imagined such a tragedy occurring, he said.
Mark Bowes was a good and conscientious employee who did not drive fast.
It would have been hypocritical of him to have told Bowes not to bring his children onto the mining site because that was the way he [Jacobs] was brought up and was part of the culture of gold mining in his family, Jacobs said.
The company had improved the road layout and made other alterations since the accident, which continued to weigh heavily on his shoulders.
Earlier the court heard police officers took photographs and planned a recovery effort, not realising Keira was alive.
Evidence showed Tayne's father was unable to rescue the children and ran for help after the accident. Witnesses said he was bleeding, confused and distressed when he reached a nearby house to sound the alarm.
Bowes told a person at the house: "We have got to get my babies. I could not get them out, I don't know how I got out.''
He was in ensuing weeks diagnosed with a 14mm cancerous brain tumour which needed immediate removal.
Senior Sergeant Allyson Ealam and Sergeant Russell Glue were some of the first officers to arrive at what Ealam described as a dark, difficult and chaotic scene.
Ealam said Glue had taken photographs and they had discussed a plan of action with other officers.
After questions were raised by Tayne's family in court, Glue said he arrived about 7.10pm to find the vehicle upside down with only the lower rear protruding from the water.
He wasn't sure how long it was before he and Ealam searched the vehicle although he was referred to the time of 8.40pm when he rescued Keira.
She had been in the water for up to two hours.
Asked by Tayne's grandfather Murray Bowes whether police could learn from the accident, he said in hindsight the vehicle should have been searched earlier and he apologised to the family.
He said he had treated the scene as a recovery site and his main concern was to secure the children's bodies to ensure they did not fall from the vehicle into the pond.
Even if police had searched earlier, the outcome for Tayne would have been the same, he said.
McElrea commended police for their efforts which he described as being of the highest standards.
He told Glue he was "being unduly hard" on himself.
Other evidence showed the Toyota had brake problems and the site of the accident had hazardous road conditions.
* An earlier version of this story said the time was 90 minutes. We apologise for the error.
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