Queenstown worker Daniel Figueroa's screams went unheard for 15 minutes after conveyor belt accident

By Margot Taylor

Daniel Figueroa says he was in agony after his right arm was crushed in a tortilla conveyor belt and his screams went unheard for 15 minutes. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH / ODT
Daniel Figueroa says he was in agony after his right arm was crushed in a tortilla conveyor belt and his screams went unheard for 15 minutes. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH / ODT

Tomorrow, Daniel Figueroa will find out if he has lost the use of his right arm forever.

The Queenstown man's arm was mangled to the bone after it became caught in a conveyor belt at his workplace, Remarkable Tortillas.

He had undergone two operations in Dunedin Hospital in five days to treat a broken wrist and arm, burns and a "huge'' hole in his elbow.

However, memories of his leg restarting the conveyor belt after he had stopped it and put on an oven mitt to remove a stuck tortilla were still fresh.

"It was really bad. I was screaming for help but no one heard and I couldn't see the button to turn it off.''

After 20 seconds of terror, Figueroa, 19, "somehow" managed to turn the machine off.

The crushing had stopped, but it was 15 minutes before two "shocked and scared'' workmates found him, he said.

He first saw the extent of his injuries while waiting at Frankton Hospital to be flown by helicopter to Dunedin Hospital.

Figueroa's family moved to New Zealand from Chile eight years ago and he started working at the business part-time while studying at Wakatipu High School.

After leaving school last year, he began full-time work there to save money before starting university, he said.

Although he feared he would never be able to play tennis or guitar again, he was not ruling out returning to the workplace or attending university to study geography.

"I would just be more wary that even though your workplace is safe, and you know everything, accidents can happen really quickly.''

Figueroa's mother, Mariela Varas, said she was devastated by her son's injuries.

"It was very traumatising, a very sad experience, especially because he was working to save money to go to university.''

Varas said her parents in-law happened to be visiting from Chile when the accident happened and they were helping her husband care for their two younger children in Queenstown.

Remarkables Tortillas owner Russell Griffiths said the conveyor belt in which Figueroa got stuck had been assessed by a WorkSafe official and was in use again.

Staff at the business were like "family'' and he would continue to pay Figueroa while he was in hospital, he said.

A WorkSafe spokesman said investigations into the accident were continuing.

- Otago Daily Times

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