An 84-year-old farmer survived being trapped under a tractor for 20 hours in freezing conditions, only to die days later from injury complications.
Cork’s City Coroner’s court heard yesterday that a faulty tractor handbrake was to blame for the accident on Dan O’Meara’s Kerry farm in January.
Dr Myra Cullinane, the city coroner, and Health and Safety Authority inspector Gerard McSweeney said the case served as a stark reminder to farmers to ensure their farm machinery is in good working order.
Some 30 people, including nine over the age of 65, died in farm-related accidents last year — the worst year on record.
Dr Cullinane recorded a verdict of accidental death in Mr O’Meara’s case.
The inquest heard that Mr O’Meara, who lived and farmed alone at Lisheenacanna, Ballyhar, Killarney, was most likely using his 30-year-old Universal tractor to feed cattle when the accident happened at around 4.30pm on January 18.
It is believed Mr O’Meara got out of the tractor after stopping on a slight incline but that its handbrake did not engage and it rolled backwards. It is believed he tried desperately to stop it by putting his shoulder to the right rear wheel. But he slipped and was pinned by his left shoulder under the wheel grips.
He spent the rest of that day; the entire night; and most of the next morning pinned underneath. He was conscious throughout.
Meals on Wheels volunteer, Jim O’Shea, said he called to Mr O’Meara’s home at 12.30pm the next day and became concerned when he got no answer at the door.
“I went to the gate of the yard and called out and I heard a faint response: ‘I am down here. I am caught’,” Mr O’Shea said.
He found Mr O’Meara lying on his back, trapped under the tractor wheel.
He told the coroner it had been a very, very cold night but Mr O’Meara was able to tell him what happened.
But Mr O’Shea said he could not drive the tractor off Mr O’Meara because its fuel tanks had run dry after the engine was left running all night, and that it was too heavy to push. He went to a neighbouring farm to raise the alarm and Michael Cooper rushed to help.
Mr Cooper worked with fire fighters to free Mr O’Meara from under the tractor before paramedics rushed him to Kerry General Hospital for surgery.
However, his condition deteriorated and he was transferred to Cork University Hospital where he died on January 22.
Dr Margot Bolster, the assistant state pathologist, said the crush injuries and the length of time that Mr O’Meara lay trapped under the tractor triggered a domino of complications, including renal failure, which ultimately caused his death.
But she said given his age, he must have been incredibly strong to survive for so long.
The HSA and various farm bodies have launched several farm safety campaigns in recent months.
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