Kurow's injured UK player flies home

An English rugby player injured in a serious crash in the Hakataramea Valley in May arrived back home yesterday after a ''bloody amazing'' recovery to be greeted at Heathrow Airport by up to 20 friends and relatives.

Rob Courtnell (25) had not long arrived to play for the Kurow Rugby Club's premier side and was with other players and a supporter in a Toyota Land Cruiser when it left Hakataramea Valley Rd shortly after midnight on May 10 and rolled several times in a paddock.

Jarrad Ethan Blackler (23), of Danseys Pass, later died in Dunedin Hospital from injuries he received in the crash.

The five other occupants were taken by rescue helicopters or ambulance to hospitals in Dunedin, Christchurch and Timaru.

Mr Courtnell was the last to be released from hospital, flying out from Christchurch with his father on Monday morning. He was initially admitted to Christchurch Hospital with critical injuries, had regained consciousness and was later transferred to a rehabilitation centre.

He would never play rugby again, but was able to walk and still needed a lot more rehabilitation, Kurow premier team coach Kevin Malcolm said yesterday.

About half a dozen club members farewelled him at Christchurch Airport.

''He got out of his wheelchair and did a little pirouette to show how far he had come.''

His recovery was described as ''quite phenomenal'' and ''bloody amazing'' by Mr Malcolm.

''As a team and a community we were emotionally prepared not to [get] him back.''

Mr Courtnell's parents had flown to New Zealand after the crash, spending most of their time in Christchurch but making three visits to Kurow - to watch a game against Athletic Marist, for Mr Blackler's funeral and, last Wednesday, a farewell dinner at the Kurow Hotel with about 30 of the club's players and supporters.

The player's father had flown back to Britain for about a week on business and his mother flew out on Friday to return home for a brief period.

Those trips were booked before they were told about three weeks ago their son would be able to travel home this week.

North Otago Rugby Union chief executive Colin Jackson said the union was delighted Mr Courtnell had made ''a wonderful recovery''.

''Thanks to wonderful care at Christchurch Hospital and the Laura Fergusson Trust Rehabilitation Centre, Rob Courtnell has overcome head, bone and internal injuries to such a positive extent he was allowed to return to England this week.

''The Kurow Rugby Club and all of our North Otago rugby community have been absolutely brilliant with their support for everyone directly affected by the unfortunate accident,'' Mr Jackson said.

Waimate police last month completed their investigation into the crash and passed the report to Christchurch for a decision on whether any charges will be laid.

david.bruce@odt.co.nz

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