TRAPPED upside down in a waterfall in New Zealand, 15-year-old Dion Latta squeezed the hand of his rescuers to let them know he was still alive. But their efforts were to no avail.
His death in Dunedin Hospital soon after the dramatic rescue has devastated experienced search and rescue officers, who described him as "a real fighter".
Dion had been swimming through the Motatapu Gorge, near Wanaka, on Sunday evening when he became separated from his group and fell down a 3.5m waterfall. He became trapped in what the rescuers said was an "impossible" position between rocks.
"He could hear us yelling and we could hold his hand that he could force out through where the water was flowing - but he was never going to get free from that, which is just heartbreaking," said Senior Constable Mike Johnston, of Wanaka police.
It was remarkable Dion was still alive in the torrent, Mr Johnston said. "The way the water was flowing over him was allowing a big pillow of water to go over him and created a big air gap between him and the rockface.
"The way that his leg was pinned - he was never going to come free from that by himself.
The power of the water in the gorge is phenomenal."