Man fainted, then drowned, at Rotorua spa

Frenchman Denis Miklus drowned at the Polynesian Spa in Rotorua in June last year. Photo: Benn Bathgate/Stuff.

When Polynesian Spa duty manager Kauljeet Kaur​ first saw Denis Miklus​ floating face down in their Priest Pool, she wasn't concerned.

A short time later, he was pronounced dead.

Kaur revealed the first time she saw Miklus, 67, at his visit to the pool during an inquest into the Frenchman's death held at the Rotorua District Court on Monday.

She said she first spotted Miklus just after 1pm on that June 2018 day.

"His head was underwater...I thought he was doing some sort of exercise."

It was also revealed she made a second, later, more detailed statement about the death. 

When coroner Gordon Matenga asked why, Kaur cited the initial shock.

"I've never seen anybody like that before in my life. When I was writing my statement I was still in trauma."

She also said she often saw bathers fully submerged in the water.

"I did not want to upset him when I first saw him. I thought he was doing some exercises or relaxing and I didn't want him to complain."

Her claim was also supported by the spa's health and safety manager Carol Mio.

"I have seen it many times, people holding their breath, trying to submerge themselves."

Kaur said she raised the alarm, however, on seeing Miklus in the same position shortly after her initial sighting. This alerted lifeguard Elly Tibus.

Kaur also revealed how Miklus appeared when they pulled him from the water.

"His lips were blue and his body was white."

Staff attempted to perform CPR on Miklus until Ambulance staff arrived.

Evidence was also given by pathologist Dr Tim Sutton, who conducted the post mortem the day after Miklus' death.

"I think it's most likely he fainted and fell back into the pool face down."

Sutton said he found no signs to indicate a fall or slip and there were no drugs or alcohol in Miklus' system at the time.

He said it was "very clear to me" he died of drowning, noting he found two litres of fluid in the stomach.

"He definitely had ingested a lot of water," he said. 

WorkSafe health and safety inspector Dipak Makan, who investigated the death, also gave evidence saying he found "no evidence" of any breaches of health and safety regulation.

"Is there any action which the court needs to recommend or further investigate?" Matenga asked

"I don't think so," Makan replied.

He also revealed that the check of hydrogen sulphide on the day of the drowning - which has been ruled as a factor in hot pool deaths elsewhere - found a reading level of zero. 

Polynesian Spa chief executive Gert Taljaard also gave evidence, saying that since the pools had opened in 1972 more than 10 million visitors have used the pools.

During that time they'd had two drownings. This one and one in 2003 which was "thoroughly investigated but no recommendations were made as a result".

"If you look at the number of bathers it's a proud [safety] record."

He said that since Miklus' death additional CCTV cameras hade been installed, though he did confirm they were not monitored constantly.

The temperature on the Priest Pool had also been dropped from 42 degrees to 41 degrees, and additional signage warning bathers to stay hydrated and take breaks from the pools had been installed. 

Miklus' partner of 29 years, Jany Toomaru, was also present at the hearing and questioned Taljaard about the effectiveness of signage.

"When we go to the Poly Spa we don't think we're going to die," she said. 

Matenga said he would reserve his decision, and had words of praise for Toomaru.

"You have conducted yourself with grace and courtesy and I extend my condolences at the loss of your partner."

-Stuff/Benn Bathgate.

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