The Westpac Trust Rescue Helicopter winches Stewart Rundle to safety following his call for help from the bottom of the cliff. Picture / One News
The Westpac Trust Rescue Helicopter winches Stewart Rundle to safety following his call for help from the bottom of the cliff. Picture / One News

85-year-old survives 30 metre clifftop plunge

AN 85-year-old pensioner who fell 30m from his clifftop property on to rocks was unconscious for several hours - and then had to wriggle out of his pants to reach his cellphone to raise the alarm.

Castor Bay man Stewart Rundle broke five vertebrae, six ribs and punctured a lung after he fell more than six storeys, and thought he was "either dreaming or hallucinating" when he came-to on the rocks with the spray of high-tide waves splashing his face.

His left arm was wedged between rocks underneath him and his phone was in his pocket on the same side - so he inched his trousers off so he could get to his phone with his free arm.

Mr Rundle had been cleaning out his garden shed on Auckland Anniversary Day and plunged down the cliff just before his wife Pauline got home from a quick trip to the shops.

"I got home from the shops and the house was unlocked so I didn't think he had gone far.

Then I couldn't find him," she told the Herald last night.

"I was ringing and ringing him. I asked him later if he could hear his phone ringing and he told me, 'Yes, I wished whoever was ringing me would stop because they might use up all my battery and then I won't be able to call for help'."

Mrs Rundle also called North Shore Hospital to see if he had been admitted and walked around Castor Bay looking for her missing husband. When she saw emergency services converging on the cliff area she knew what had happened.

The couple's Beach Rd property has a glass fence near the perimeter, but their land stretches just beyond it and is accessible by a gate. Mr Rundle often went down the steep bank to tidy up the area - using a harness and always when his wife was home.

On Monday he went just outside the gate to check something and ended up 30m below.

"He popped through and suddenly the ground gave way and down he went," Mrs Rundle said. "He spread-eagled, that's what he always told me he'd do if he fell."

Mrs Rundle said if the tide was low her husband would have been found sooner as the rocky area was a popular walking route.

"But the tide was up. He wasn't worried about drowning though, he said he could hold his head up. But he could feel the spray on his face.

"He said to me that he didn't know whether he was dreaming or hallucinating or [if] it was real. He was lying there calling out for help."

After he raised the alarm a Fire Service rope rescue team arrived and prepared to abseil down to Mr Rundle.

A police officer commandeered a kayak from a nearby beachgoer and paddled to the rocks to get there faster. He gave first aid to Mr Rundle until further help arrived.

At about 3.45pm the great-grandfather was winched to safety by the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter and taken to Auckland City Hospital in a status 1 condition - meaning he had potentially life threatening injuries.

Last night Mr Rundle remained in the hospital's intensive care unit with his wife and daughter Deborah at his side.

Mrs Rundle said he had a broken left shoulder and was waiting on a further MRI scan to ascertain whether his arm was also broken as he had lost sensation.

He also suffered three broken vertebrae in his neck and two in his back, six broken ribs, a punctured lung and was grazed and gashed all over.

Incredibly, his spinal cord was not damaged.

"He is in remarkably high spirits. He's a fit man. Okay, he's 85, but nobody ever thinks he's 85," his wife said.

"He's either lucky or he's got a guardian angel. He said to me today, 'I think I'm going to make it' and I said, 'Of course you will'."

Mrs Rundle said her husband, who was planning his second climb of Mt Te Aroha after a successful trip last year, was expected to make a full recovery.

She thanked police, fire, ambulance and the helicopter crew for their help.

North Shore police area commander Inspector Shanan Gray said the rescue was the result of great teamwork between all the emergency services.