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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
Valiant efforts byhospital staff to resuscitate Dion proved