NZ rugby tourist's fatal Bali cocktail

By Andrew Koubaridis

Michael Denton was drinking only moderately at Kuta Beach because his Perth rugby team had an early game the next day in defence of their title, his brother says. Photo / Supplied
Michael Denton was drinking only moderately at Kuta Beach because his Perth rugby team had an early game the next day in defence of their title, his brother says. Photo / Supplied

The family of a New Zealand rugby player who died from a poisonous alcohol drink in Bali say tourists need to be aware of the dangers of lethal cocktails there.

Michael Denton, 29, died after consuming a drink believed to contain a distilled local alcohol called arak, which in 2009 killed dozens of people, including four foreigners.

And a 25-year-old Australian nurse is still battling brain and kidney damage after drinking the potent brew only days before Mr Denton died.

A coroner has found Mr Denton died of methanol poisoning.

Last night, brother Greg Denton, 26, said Michael was struck down the night before he was due to play in a rugby tournament.

"This could happen to anyone ... These guys were not really drinking to excess. They were at a hotel drinking in a licensed bar and it's quickly turned pretty nasty for my brother."

Michael Denton was drinking in a hotel at Kuta on the afternoon of September 23. Some in his group bought cocktails called Jungle Juice. About 10pm, he complained of feeling ill.

Friends from the Perth-based Nedlands Rugby Club helped the first five-eighths to his room, but when they checked on him an hour later, he was unconscious. Attempts to revive him failed and he died soon after in hospital.

His family want to highlight the dangers that exist in places usually considered safe, such as hotels, because they say few people are aware how deadly the drinks can be.

"There can be methanol in some of these drinks that are produced, whether it be on the side of the street or in a licensed establishment, and just to be aware of that risk," Greg Denton said.

"I'm not an expert but [arak] is a type of rice wine and from time-to-time, if it's not distilled properly, it has methanol as a byproduct, which should never be found in the human body." Methanol can cause brain damage, blindness and death.

Michael Denton's teammates who drank the same cocktail escaped with no ill-effects.

"The toxicologist said it could be one standard drink with the wrong amount of methanol in it that could lead to permanent brain damage blindness or death," Greg Denton said.

He said his brother was not poisoned while having a big night. "These guys were over there to defend their title in a pretty serious, internationally sanctioned rugby tournament. They were starting the next day at 7am, so were not having a big night. They were having a couple of drinks at the hotel."

He was shocked to see how many cases there had been in Bali and how often the problem went unreported.

He said his family were still devastated. "Finally having some answers as to why it happened helps but it's not going to bring the older bro back ... It will be tough for some time."

The family would never know why it was just Michael who fell victim but were trying not to focus on the randomness of it.

"A lot of things happen to a lot of people in life and you can't really give it too much thought to why. You only have to look at the internet and see how many people have died from methanol poisoning in Bali this year alone and you can see it's a big problem."

He believed travel websites should carry information so tourists drinking in Bali could at least make an informed choice.

A month after Michael Denton died, a warning appeared on the Foreign Ministry's safe-travel website warning that arak was often mixed with fruit juice. It said anyone trying it should ensure it came in a sealed bottle from a commercial distillery.

Authorities in Indonesia have blamed rogue producers in small factories that have started after crackdowns on alcohol imports.

Michael Denton left his hometown of Dunedin for Perth about five years ago and worked as a property development agent.

Methanol hits victims quickly

Methanol poisoning can strike victims suddenly - and not much is needed to be fatal, a poisoning expert says.

Dr Leo Schep, a toxicologist at the National Poisons Centre in Dunedin, said not much pure methanol was needed to have deadly results.

"All you need is half a millilitre per kilogram of body weight, so if you're 80kg, you need 40ml of pure methanol to have a toxic dose."

Dr Schep said physical symptoms were similar to drunkenness.

"Then there can be nothing for a few hours, then they develop a headache ... They can get short of breath, blurred vision and vertigo."

If untreated, the poisoning could lead to rapid breathing, blindness, a coma and seizures, which could lead to brain damage.

Dr Schep said that while he couldn't comment specifically on Michael Denton's case, the New Zealander might have drunk the methanol early in the afternoon or even the night before, which could explain why he went downhill so fast.

He said victims could be saved if they received treatment quickly. The antidote was ethanol, which acted like a blocking agent and eliminated the methanol.

- NZ Herald

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