Kurt Bayer

Kurt Bayer is an APNZ reporter based in Christchurch.

Wasp attack victim died of heart attack - coroner

File photo / Thinkstock
File photo / Thinkstock

A man who died after being stung "hundreds" of times by swarming wasps on Saturday was killed by a heart attack brought on by the frenzied attack, a coroner has revealed.

Morris Robert Stretch, 62, was collecting firewood in a forest in the Marlborough Sounds with his nephew Craig Wilson, 49, when the pair disturbed a massive underground wasps' nest.

Mr Stretch, who had only just moved to the picturesque Kenepuru Sound area last month, told his nephew to run for it into the forest to escape the killer swarm.

The retired cleaner sprinted towards a nearby road where he was overcome by the "aggressive" swarm.

When his nephew came to find him moments later, Mr Stretch was dead on the road - with dozens of wasps still covering his face, neck, and body. Mr Wilson tried to resuscitate him with CPR and was helped by a passerby, but Mr Stretch passed away at the scene before emergency services arrived.

Now, his family have destroyed the nest, and local police have issued a public warning on wasps' nests in the Nelson and Marlborough Sounds area, which is regarded as having some of the densest populations of wasps in the world.

Mr Stretch's body was returned to Kereru marae in his home region of Manawatu today (Monday) and will be laid to rest in a tangi on Wednesday.

His niece Darcia Mangakahiao travelled back from Kenepuru Sound today and paid tribute to "a neat bloke, a real family man."

She said the family, especially her brother Mr Wilson who was also stung in the attack and required hospital treatment, are stunned by the freak death.

"Everyone ... friends and family are absolutely devastated to lose him. And they are all devastated at exactly how he died,"

Ms Mangakahiao said her uncle had gone to live with his sister Mona Wilson and her husband Jim in Kenepuru to "have a change of lifestyle" and spend time with his southern family.

She told APNZ how her brother and uncle had ventured into the forest at the back of the family property on Saturday morning to cut firewood and go fishing.

"They were walking along and uncle Morris noticed he had stood on a wasps' nest and they became aggressive straight away," she said.

"Uncle Morris told my brother to make a run for it. He ran one way - towards the trees - and my uncle ran towards the road.

"When my brother went to find him, he came across him lying on the road, dead.

"When Craig opened his shirt to do CPR, he was still covered in wasps. They were all over his face, neck, and chest - everywhere."

Ms Mangakahiao revealed that it wasn't the "hundreds, if not more" stings estimated to have been inflicted on her uncle's body that killed him, but a massive heart attack.

"The coroner told us that the wasps caused him to have a heart attack and that was what killed him," she said.

"To have that number attack you ... you can hardly imagine what it must have been like.

"He was a neat bloke, a real family man. He loved all his family - nieces, nephews, and they all loved him to pieces more like a cousin than an uncle.

"He had become a christian and was a very staunch person. But he was also a very fun-loving, outgoing person. He kept the family together.

"My mum is very cut up. He was a great help to my mum and dad and they'll definitely miss him."

Ms Mangakahiao said Mr Stretch had worked as a cleaner in Palmerston North before retiring.

He is survived by his daughter Rangitaiki, 42, son Justin, 18, and two grandchildren.

Senior Constable Andrew Wilson of Havelock police said the horror attack happened at around 9am on Saturday.

He said Mr Stretch had suffered a "significant amount" of stings, which amounted to "hundreds, if not more."

The officer said: "Wasps are aggressive and can sting hundreds, if not thousands of times, per individual. So when you've got a significant number attacking your body, you can hardly imagine how horrible it must have been."

He said "immediate members" of the family had destroyed the nest "personally" over the long weekend.

He also encouraged the public to "put as much distance between themselves and a wasps' nest as possible" before alerting the Department of Conservation or local council.

- APNZ

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