Trapped boy's courage praised

The tenacity and courage of Dion Latta, who was trapped upside down under a waterfall for about three hours, and the bravery of his rescuers, has been praised by Otago Southland coroner David Crerar.

An inquest into the death of Dion William Latta (15), in the Motatapu Gorge near Wanaka on January 1 was held in the Alexandra Coroner's Court on October 25. Mr Crerar said in 33 years as a coroner, he had never read evidence so harrowing.

In his findings, released yesterday, he said Dion was described as a good athlete, a good student and a popular kid.

"The rescuers described Dion as a 'fighter'. 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."

Mr Crerar praised the rescuers, in particular Senior Constable Michael Johnston, of Wanaka.

"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."

Mr Crerar would send a copy of his finding to the Commissioner of Police and the Royal Humane Society to ensure the rescuers' bravery was recognised.

He recommended the Department of Conservation review signage in the gorge using white, black and red signs "to emphasise the extreme hazard presented by the steep and slippery rocks and by the swift cold water."

Dion, a John McGlashan College pupil from the Nenthorn Valley, near Palmerston, died of "immersion hypothermia", Mr Crerar said.

He had been holidaying with friends. Two families met at the Motatapu Gorge picnic area that evening and a group of young people, aged 12 to 18, decided to go up into the gorge, accompanied by three adults.

While trying to climb out of the main river flow on to a rock, Dion was pushed by the current between two large rocks, pinned upside down by the force of the water, with his leg trapped above him. He was "very unwell" when rescued, but was alive.

"The question must be asked as to whether his earlier recovery from the position in which he was trapped in the gorge may have had some effects on the outcome," Mr Crerar said.

"The evidence satisfies me that efforts by rescue personnel were all carried out in an appropriate and timely manner."

It was fortunate Search and Rescue members were at the Wanaka police station when the emergency call was received and the method chosen to free Dion was appropriate and successful.

CPR was started immediately, the Otago Regional Rescue Helicopter winched Dion from the gorge and after receiving treatment from paramedics, he was airlifted to Dunedin Hospital.

Valiant efforts byhospital staff to resuscitate Dion proved unsuccessful.