September 10, 2008

Alcohol a Factor in Gassing Deaths

By BROUN, Britton

DRINKING may have clouded the judgment of two men who died of carbon monoxide poisoning when they used a barbecue to heat their tiny camping hut, police say.

A store manager from Howick in Auckland, 35, and a Hamilton stock- purchaser, 50, both originally from South Africa, died in their bunks early on Sunday after bringing a small charcoal-burning barbecue into their Waikato camping hut while on a fishing trip.

Their names should be made public today.

Jason Basson, 32, a South African who has been living in Hamilton, was found barely conscious lying with his nose against the hut door.

He was in a serious condition after a second oxygen treatment at Auckland's Devonport Naval Base on Sunday.

Sergeant Brent Wallace, of Huntly, said witnesses at Ruapuke Beach Camping Ground reported the men were drinking socially the night before their deaths.

He believed alcohol might have contributed to their lack of forethought in bringing the barbecue inside. "It's an absolute warning of what can happen. It's so easy. All they wanted was a little warmth but a bit of alcohol clouded their judgment," he said.

Autopsies were completed on the two men yesterday -- which indicated that carbon monoxide poisoning was the cause of death -- and the cases were given to the coroner.

Police were still awaiting a toxicology report that would confirm the findings and reveal how much alcohol was in the men's blood.

Mr Basson should remain in North Shore Hospital's high- dependency unit for a few days before being transferred to Waikato Hospital.

Though in a serious condition, he is conscious and breathing unaided.

He has had two sessions in the navy's hyperbaric chamber -- normally used for divers with the bends -- since being flown to Auckland on Sunday and may need more.

The three men, with two others in a different hut, had travelled to the campsite, southwest of Raglan, for a weekend of fishing while their wives attended a baby shower for Mr Basson's wife in Hamilton.

Michael Beasley from the National Poisons Centre said Mr Basson was lucky to survive but could face long-term side effects.

"Age and health have a lot to do with how you cope. Someone who suffered carbon monoxide poisoning could have a change of personality, pins and needles, be unsteady on their feet or suffer depression."

Symptoms of poisoning were unpredictable and could take months to develop. Though some people recovered quickly, others could take years, Dr Beasley said.

Carbon monoxide displaces oxygen in the bloodstream and deprives the heart, brain and other organs of oxygen. A person who is sleeping can die without showing symptoms.

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