Palmerston teenager Dion Latta was a fighter.
As he hung upside down, suspended by his leg from a waterfall for some three hours, he showed great tenacity and courage and has been praised by Otago Southland coroner David Crerar.
An inquest into the death of Dion, in the Motatapu Gorge near Wanaka on January 1 was held in the Alexandra Coroner's Court on October 25. Mr Crerar released his findings last week, describing Dion as "a good athlete, a good student and a popular kid".
"Dion was described to me as being ... a lively, sporty young man ... his courage and determination that made him such a talented all-rounder."
On January 1, Dion, a John McGlashan College student from Palmerston, had been holidaying with friends. Two families met at the Motatapu Gorge picnic area and a group of young people, aged between 12 to 18, decided to go up into the Gorge, accompanied by three adults.
Whilst exploring waterfalls in the Motatapu Gorge near Wanaka, Dion fell backwards and the flow of the river trapped his foot under a waterfall.
He was pinned upside down by the force of the water, with his leg trapped above him.
Because of the slipperiness the rocks and the pressure of the water, rescue attempts by adults failed.
The younger members were sent for help and other adults arrived at the scene. Search and Rescue experts arrived about two hours later.
Wanaka police Constable Michael Johnston described the current as being so strong that it caught him by his shoulder causing him to slip down the face of the rock next to the waterfall into the pool below.
Although rescuers were able to extricate Dion, he had become extremely chilled and shocked and died the following morning in Dunedin Hospital.
"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," Mr Crerar said.
"His tenacity and his bravery is commendable."
Mr Crerar said Dion was clearly very unwell when he was retrieved from the waterfall. Continuing resuscitation and revival at Dunedin Hospital proved unsuccessful.
Dion died of immersion hypothermia on the morning of January 2, Mr Crerar said.
Mr Crerar said he admired the bravery of the rescuers who, in hazardous circumstances and with a disregard to their personal safety, worked valiantly to save Dion.
Constable Johnston was singled out for particular praise.
"I intend to forward this finding to the Commissioner of Police to ensure that the heroic actions of Constable Johnston and of other police personnel are recognised," he said.
"I intend also to send a copy of the finding to the Royal Humane Society and ask that recognition of the efforts of the other rescuers be given."
He recommended the Department of Conservation review signage for the Motatapu Gorge "to emphasise the extreme hazard presented by the steep and slippery rocks and by the swift cold water".
Mr Crerar said the evidence satisfied him that efforts by rescue personnel were conducted in a timely manner.