3 Jan 2012

Boy who died after waterfall mishap 'a lovely kid'

2:48 pm on 3 January 2012

The principal of the college attended by a boy who died after being trapped in a waterfall says he was a remarkable sportsman, a great kid and his loss is a terrible tragedy.

Dion Latta, of Palmerston, was pinned upside down in the waterfall near Wanaka and by the time rescuers could free him, he had suffered severe hypothermia and later died at Dunedin Hospital.

The 15-year-old had been exploring the Motatapu Gorge behind Glendhu Bay with a group of friends on Sunday evening when his foot got stuck in the top of the waterfall and he was forced upside down by the strong flow of water, police say.

The boy was able to breathe through an air pocket between the water and cliff face. Rescuers freed him after three hours and had considered amputating the trapped limb, but decided it could have caused a fatal shock to his body.

Mike Corkery, principal of John McGlashan College in Dunedin, told Radio New Zealand News on Tuesday he knew Dion well and everyone is at a total loss for words over the death of such a talented sportsman and student.

"He was a boy of character. He would have been jumping over something, trying to get to the other side of a stream. He was full of life. The way he played rugby ... he was a fearsome tackler - just threw himself into everything.

"But if you wanted a job doing, he'd step in as well. Just a lovely kid."

Friends and students have set up a tribute page on the social networking site Facebook, RIP Dion Latta.

Mr Corkery says he and the college's director of boarding will meet with the family on Tuesday to offer support.

Phillip Melchior, from Wanaka's Land Search and Rescue, told Radio New Zealand's Summer Report programme on Tuesday the squad is used to seeing people die in the outdoors, but this rescue was particularly traumatic.

"It was a 250 per cent effort, really. When you've got a young life that had so much promise and you struggle so hard to try and save it, it's always kind of worse than other ones."