Walker still unconscious after fall

By Beck Vass

One of the country's top jockeys had not regained consciousness last night after a pig-hunting accident in Taranaki that left him fighting for his life.

Michael Walker, 24, was carrying a pig during a hunting trip in Okau, northeast of New Plymouth, on Tuesday when he tumbled down a 10m bank.

He was with his partner's brother, Brad Smith, and another friend, Brian Crow of Waitara. Walker spent the night in bush before Mr Crow tramped out and alerted emergency services.

Mr Smith witnessed the fall and comforted Walker in the bush all night. He could not be reached for comment last night.

Walker was initially airlifted to Taranaki Base Hospital but was later transported to Auckland City Hospital. Staff there described his condition last night as stable.

Walker's agent, Aidan Rodley, said last night the jockey's partner, Candace Smith, and her father were by his bedside.

"The last we heard he was still in the state of unconsciousness in the neurological ward, and the head injuries were still as serious as first thought," Mr Rodley said.

"He's been unconscious basically since he got off the helicopter."

Mr Rodley was in regular contact with Ms Smith at the hospital.

The family had received a "huge" amount of support from the racing fraternity and the general public since the accident.

"When I spoke to Candace last she was remarkably strong. Obviously it's not an easy time for her, but she's holding up pretty well."

The couple's young son, Case, aged about 2 or 3, was being looked after by Ms Smith's mother in Hawera while the family awaited news on Walker's progress.

Mr Rodley was not sure where Walker's parents were, but he believed some family members, including his father, might be coming from Australia.

He believed other family members were in and around Rotorua.

Walker battled his way back to top form after openly admitting a drug problem in 2005.

He was aiming to be the first New Zealand jockey to make 200 wins in one season.

"I know he's sort of been through his ups and downs but he's very popular and he's an iconic figure in racing," Mr Rodley said.

"He was on 173 wins, so he was only 27 wins away - it was a formality that he got there.

"And he was also very close to his personal tally of 1000 wins in New Zealand, and we were expecting to get that within four to six weeks.

"If he'd done that, he'd have broken Lance O'Sullivan's record ... I don't know if he's still got a chance to break that but he won't be getting the 200 this year.

"He's flown probably around the world and back, the amount of distance he's covered this year, so he's put a lot into it. For all of it to fall apart in this way, it's pretty disappointing - not only for him but for other people as well. But even still, we'd give the 173 wins back just to have him back in healthy shape."

Cambridge harness trainer and driver Tony Shaw says he knows exactly what Michael Walker and his family are going through.

On March 11, Shaw crashed heavily during a race at Auckland's Alexandra Park and was in a similar induced coma after having part of his skull removed in surgery to relieve bleeding around his brain.

Shaw is recovering well, but knows he was one of the lucky ones.

"I wish Michael and his family the very best."

- additional reporting: Mike Dillon

- NZ Herald

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