‘I was screaming for help but no one heard’

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Uni hopes: Daniel Figueroa

Injured Queenstowner Daniel Figueroa will find out tomorrow if he has lost the use of his right arm forever.

His arm was mangled to the bone after it became caught in a conveyor belt at his workplace,
Remarkable Tortillas.

He had two operations in Dunedin Hospital in five days to treat a broken wrist and arm, burns and a “huge” hole in his elbow.

However, memories of his leg restarting the conveyor belt after he had stopped it and put on an oven mitt to remove a stuck tortilla were still fresh.

“It was really bad. I was screaming for help but no one heard and I couldn’t see the button to turn it off.”

After 20 seconds of terror, Figueroa, 19, “somehow” managed to turn the machine off.

While the crushing had stopped, it was 15 minutes before two “shocked and scared” workmates found him, he says.

He first saw the extent of his injuries while waiting at Frankton Hospital to be flown by helicopter to Dunedin Hospital.

Figueroa’s family moved to New Zealand from Chile eight years ago and he started working at Remarkable Tortillas part-time while studying at Wakatipu High School.

After leaving school last year, he began full-time work there to save money before starting university.

While he feared he would never be able to play tennis or guitar again, he was not ruling out returning to the Queenstown factory or attending university to study geography.

“I would just be more wary that even though your workplace is safe, and you know everything, accidents can happen really quickly.”

Figueroa’s mother, Mariela Varas, is devastated by her son’s injuries.

“It was very traumatising, a very sad experience, especially because he was working to save money to go to university.”

Varas says her parents in-law happened to be visiting from Chile when the accident occurred and they were helping her husband care for their two younger children in Queenstown.

Remarkables Tortillas owner Russell Griffiths says the conveyor belt in which Figueroa got stuck has been assessed by a WorkSafe official and is in use again.

Staff at the business are like “family”, he says, and he would continue to pay Figueroa while he was in hospital.

A WorkSafe spokesman says investigations into the accident are continuing.

Otago Daily Times