Dunedin fireworks display: More hit by debris

By Rob Kidd

More people who watched the fireworks display at Dunedin's Octagon have come forward to say they were hit by debris. Photo / 123RF
More people who watched the fireworks display at Dunedin's Octagon have come forward to say they were hit by debris. Photo / 123RF

A pyrotechnics expert says the industry will keep a close watch on the investigation into how a Dunedin man suffered a severe eye injury during a New Year's fireworks display.

Wayne Boss was rushed to hospital just minutes after midnight when debris at the Octagon event struck him in the right eye, knocking him to the ground as blood gushed from the wound.

Ahead of him over the next couple of weeks is an agonising wait to find out whether he will regain his sight.

Others have come forward to tell the Otago Daily Times they too were hit during the five-minute display, though none of them were injured.

Wayne Boss in a Dunedin hospital.
Wayne Boss in a Dunedin hospital.

A WorkSafe investigation has been launched to determine what caused the incident and Dunedin City Council spokesman Graham McKerracher yesterday said the council fully supported the inquiry.

Waikato pyrotechnics expert Martin Van Tiel said such investigations typically took months to complete and that industry professionals would have a keen interest in the outcome.

"It will make us think how can we do things better?" Van Tiel said.

"Anything like this will focus us on improving safety yet again."

The fact the fireworks at Dunedin's New Year display were let off from the roof of the Civic Centre with the crowd gathered beneath did not inherently make it dangerous.

The Sky Tower in Auckland had a similar set-up, albeit more elevated, he said.

"It all comes down to the product being used and the weather conditions on the night," Van Tiel said.

He said all fireworks gave off some cardboard debris but it was designed to drift to the ground without causing injury.

However, he said it was not impossible that an "angular" fragment caused the injuries to Boss.

"It's pretty devastating," Van Tiel said of the incident.

"I just hope the surgeons can reconstruct things."

While operating large-scale fireworks shows, he had experienced sudden changes in conditions which meant blast-off had to be delayed or a location changed, but said on New Year's Eve, with an expectation the explosions would began on the stroke of midnight, it was not easy.

With big contracts at stake, Van Tiel said it would be a brave pyrotechnician who made last-minute changes to a display if it affected the start time.

"It would be company suicide," he said.

He had no doubt the council would have followed rigorous safety procedures, which were usually certified by a third party.

"The industry has a huge amount of paperwork it goes through for pre-planning and it's independently verified as well," Van Tiel said.

Dunedin woman Jordan Hill said she was standing less than a metre from Boss when he was struck towards the end of the show.

Seconds before, some ash fell into one of her eyes, which she said was "just a bit irritating" but still unexpected at what she had considered a safe event.

Her sister said something hit her in the chest which felt like a stone and left a "gigantic, rust-coloured stain" on her T-shirt.

A Dunedin man who did not want to be named, who was standing on the grass in the Octagon, also told the ODT he was hit in the chest by a stone.

"It was like someone had thumped me one," he said.

Wayne Boss' son Ben had not found what hit his father, despite returning to the scene to have a look, but he was in no doubt it was related to the fireworks.

"Although we didn't find the object, the surgeon has looked in his eye and there's ash present, so it's pretty obvious," he said.

The 22-year-old said his father was in no state to fight his corner at present but described him as "not the type of guy who's going to let this slide".

Doctors told Mr Boss his pupil had been split into three pieces and his lens had been pushed to the back of his eye by the force of the impact.

He will undergo surgery in a couple of weeks, followed by a potential third operation as specialists fight to save his sight.

- Otago Daily Times

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