A crash victim was moments away from being taken to the morgue when rescue volunteers challenged paramedics’ advice and found he was still alive.
The 30-year-old Melbourne man had been pronounced dead more than an hour earlier and covered with a plastic tarp when State Emergency Service (SES) volunteers found a pulse.
The SES volunteers had seen the man’s body shudder and twitch as he hung upside down from his mangled Porsche but paramedics assured them that movement by a corpse was not unusual.
The man is now fighting for his life in the Royal Melbourne Hospital and an investigation has been launched into his bungled rescue.
SES spokesman Lachlan Quick said the volunteers were concerned the man was still alive before they removed him from the vehicle.
“They mentioned it to the ambulance guys, who said that it (movement) can be attributed to this sort of effect when there’s a spinal injury,” he told AAP.
“It was raised and addressed and discussed and then put to one side, and they went about their business.”
The man was critically injured when his vehicle collided with a four-wheel drive near Bacchus Marsh, west of Melbourne, about 2am (AEST) on Sunday.
Two intensive-care paramedics pronounced him dead when they couldn’t find a pulse and were later called back urgently to treat him.
Tow-truck driver Trevor Oliver said the man was left in the car for about an hour and spent another 40 minutes lying critically injured on the ground before emergency services realised there had been a mistake.
“The SES got the driver out of the car, wrapped him in a tarp and sat him on the side of the road and for about 40 minutes we sat there watching his feet move,” he told AAP.
“It was only when the coroner’s representative turned up to pick up the body, and the SES and the coroner’s representative went to pick up the body and they noticed that something was odd and (discovered) he still had a very weak pulse.”
An investigation has been launched into the incident, which will be headed by The Alfred hospital’s director of trauma, Professor Russell Gruen.
Ambulance Victoria regional manager Simon Thomson could not explain on Monday how the paramedics concluded that the man was dead.
He said they were highly experienced paramedics and were traumatised by what had happened.
“Paramedics use a process to assess whether someone has died or not. We’re not clear of the exact circumstances on this occasion,” he said.
“However, what we do know is that a man was extensively trapped in the vehicle and that has been a factor in terms of paramedics being able to access him to assess him.”
The two paramedics are not due to return to work until Friday and are unlikely to face disciplinary action but could undergo retraining if it is found they made a clinical error.
The ambulance union says worker fatigue was not an issue in the case.
Ambulance Employees Australia Victorian secretary Steve McGhie said he had spoken to both paramedics and neither was able to detect a pulse or that the man was breathing.”These sorts of things happen very rarely. It’s unfortunate but … I think they did everything that they possibly could at that particular time.”