Officials are investigating after an elderly Australian priest was seriously injured from falling through a hole in the floor of a Queenstown restaurant.
The hole was an open trapdoor to the wine cellar of the Bathhouse on Queenstown Bay.
Father Peter Karam, 67, had to cut short his holiday after suffering a suspected broken shoulder and hurting his hip in last week’s tumble.
He plunged feet-first through the open trapdoor after going to the Bathhouse for a quiet spot of lunch.
It’s believed the cellar door had been opened by an electrician.
But new Bathhouse co-owner Alana Gould insists there was adequate warning signage.
“I think the guy just walked in, looked at the view and went ‘wow, that’s amazing’ – and walked straight through the signs and fell down the hole,” she says.
“We don’t use [the cellar] at all, it’s hidden away. It was open for about 30 seconds and [the electrician] had the signs up.”
But Queenstowner Fiona Short, called in to help next day by the injured priest’s hotel, says Karam told her the opening allegedly wasn’t roped off and there was only “a tiny little yellow cone that said something”.
Short claims Karam was unhappy about staff continuing to cook and serve food while he was stuck in the hole.
“It was a little Scottish girl who works there who helped him to get a glass of water and call the ambulance.”
According to Short, Karam also “said something like, if he didn’t have his big shoes on, his legs and his feet would have been broken, because he’s six foot, easily six foot – like a big prop”.
New owner Gould had only reopened her restaurant days earlier and wasn’t present.
But she says she suspects what distressed the priest was “some locals walked in the door and saw him stuck down the cellar and started laughing”.
Local St John manager Alana Reid confirms the shaken cleric was taken by ambulance with shoulder and hip injuries to Frankton’s Lakes District Hospital.
Wouter de Graaf, who manages Queenstown’s 5-star Sofitel Hotel – where Karam was staying – says the priest cut short his stay.
Mountain Scene was unable to contact Karam but a woman at his Roman Catholic parish in Sydney said he was on sick leave this week.
Gould says the “unfortunate accident” was reported to the Department of Labour.
“We sent [Karam] a card, he seems pretty happy now.”
A DOL spokesman said yesterday: “We confirm we are investigating a workplace accident which happened in Queenstown, when a person was seriously injured after falling through a trapdoor in the floor which had been left open.”