A popular Queenstown fireman and bus driver has died while snorkelling off Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
Bill Metherell was holidaying with his wife Alison on Lady Elliot Island.
After getting into trouble trying to rescue Bill, Alison spent a week in Bundaberg Hospital, but has now returned home.
Since moving to Queenstown in 1992, Bill, 59, had been driving tour groups in the summer and skiers/boarders in the winter.
“He loved being in the outdoors, walking and skiing and enjoying the scenery,” says Alison, who met him the year he arrived in town – they married at the fire station six years later.
She thinks his nickname, ‘Gov’, came from spirited debates with his workmates, in which he generally thought he was right.
“I admired Bill for his intelligence, sense of humour and his dedication to the fire brigade, even though he didn’t attend as much as he would have liked due to work.”
Born in Upminster, England, Bill joined the Millwall Fire Brigade in London in 1981, and in ’87 attended the King’s Cross St Pancras tube station fire which claimed 31 lives.
In ’88, he left to go travelling, arriving in Auckland in ’91 for a supposed three-week New Zealand holiday.
He joined the Queenstown volunteer brigade in ’92, and that year was on an appliance that rolled off the Glenorchy Road, when it hit a soft patch, spinning about 15 times before landing in the lake.
“It was like going round and round in a washing machine,” Bill said.
He was instrumental in ensuring the safety of others, and co-driver Bruce Romeril later credited his colleagues with saving his life.
Bill was involved in many brigade conferences and competitions, and two years ago received his gold star for 25 years’ service.
Chief fire officer Andrew Bary calls him “respected, valued and sorely missed”.
Alison says “he was the best husband anyone could wish for”.
“Plans for retirement were a bit of land with some sheds so he could work on cars and maybe have a few animals.”
They’d also planned to go to the Galapagos Islands next year to celebrate his 60th.
Queenstown community activist, historian and former journalist Michael Lynch died recently. See p4