Horror in the sand dunes as foot severed – ‘like a guillotine’

A beekeeper working in remote Northland had his foot severed when it became caught in the tow rope being used to pull his vehicle out of sand.

The shocking and traumatic injury happened in a heartbeat and turned into a frantic race for medical treatment with mobile phone coverage patchy in the northern Kaipara area where he and another were working.

An orthopaedic surgeon says the rope, or strop, connecting the vehicles acted as a “guillotine” when it tightened around the man’s lower leg.

The accident happened early on October 12, near Pouto, south of Dargaville, shortly after Northland went into level 3 lockdown. Beekeepers were able to keep operating as essential workers with spring a critical time of year for the industry.

The Herald has learned the beekeeper and a colleague were working in the area when their vehicle got stuck in sand.

A second vehicle tried to pull it free.

At the point tension came on to pull the trapped vehicle free, the beekeeper’s foot came away from his leg. It was believed that his foot became caught in a loop in the rope or strop being used to pull the vehicle free.

The remote Pouto area, near the northern entrance of the Kaipara Harbour, is about 50km from Dargaville. Away from the single road to Pouto, some parts of the peninsula are so inaccessible that the beach on the western side is used to get in and out.

A spokeswoman for St John said the emergency service received a landline call at 8.43am on October 12 about the accident, but was not needed as the patient took himself to hospital.

A spokeswoman for Northland District Health Board said the patient was stabilised at Dargaville Hospital and then moved to Whangarei Hospital for further medical care. She said the person had since been discharged.

WorkSafe said it had started an investigation. The first stage of the inquiry would be to find if the injury was work-related.

Orthopaedic surgeon Professor Gary Hooper said had the accident happened higher up the man’s leg, the larger bones would likely have stopped the limb from coming away.

“The rope would have been under a lot of pressure, a lot of force, and just cut right through like a guillotine.”

Hooper, head of the orthopaedic department at the University of Otago, said it would be difficult to try and reattach the foot because of the limited use it would likely have provided.

He said amputations further down the leg often don’t provide a benefit in function that people would experience with those reattached further up the limb.

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