Man falls off cliff where his uncle died

A contractor who plunged 40m down the same cliff where his uncle fell to his death has spoken of his miraculous survival.

John Reeve, 69, was lucky to suffer only a few broken bones after the tumble at the upper reaches of the Whanganui River.

He had gone there to pay his respects to his uncle John Dicker who disappeared from the same spot 72 years earlier.

Unlike his uncle, who was never found, Reeve lived to tell his story from his West Harbour home yesterday. "I've just got a couple of breaks in the lower back," he said. "They heal themselves, so it's not serious, just sore."


Reeve had taken his daughter Angela and sister Beverley to visit the memorial to his late uncle, who disappeared at Tangahoe in September 1941.

"He was about to leave for the war and he was drowned just before leaving. A dog, horse and all went over the edge with him. Nothing was ever found except a bit of bridle," Reeve said.

Bridge to Nowhere Lodge owner Joe Adam took the trio in his boat and they made their way up a precarious goat track to the memorial plaque. On the way up, Reeve lost his sunglasses and was looking for them near the cliff edge as they returned.

"The very bit of ground I was standing on gave way - went straight down. And it's vertical, there's nothing to stop you."

He struck several rocks as he plummeted into the fast-flowing river. "You've got clothes and boots and a jacket on - everything. And the river was high, probably going eight knots," he said.

Adam heard the commotion and realised what had happened.

"All I heard was a big thump as he hit the first big rock on the way down and then another thump and then he screamed just before he hit another rock down by the water," Adam said.

He took his boat to Reeve and tied a rope around him so he didn't disappear in the current.

Reeve was in shock but conscious as Adam put a lifejacket over him, then got him into the boat.

"He was bloody lucky. He went down 40m," Adam said.

The Palmerston North Rescue Helicopter took Reeve to Wanganui Hospital.

Reeve's wife Carol was in Auckland when the incident occurred and was shocked when she heard the news but said it came as no surprise that he emerged in such good shape.

"He just seems to bounce off things."

The coincidence of falling off the cliff that claimed his uncle's life was not lost on Reeve. "I think with our connection there, a bit of luck was lurking. It might have been my saviour," he said. "We have a huge connection with that area."