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Bushwalker died after drinking too much water: coroner

A 30-year-old Victorian man who was found dead on a track while bushwalking in the state’s North-West last year most likely died from excessive consumption of water, a coroner has found.
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Coroner Michael Brett said that Jonathan Paul Dent died on or about April 19 last year while bushwalking in the Dial Ranges at North Motton.

In handing down his findings, Mr Brett said Mr Dent had most likely died from exercise-related hyponatremia, “which itself resulted from excessive consumption of water during the course of the prolonged exertion of the bushwalk”.

After an initial autopsy failed to determine Mr Dent’s cause of death, Mr Brett arranged for the evidence to be reviewed by medical expert, Professor Anthony Bell, whose report noted that the autopsy showed a swollen brain with signs of herniation, which was consistent with water excess consumption.

According to Mr Brett, Mr Dent had set out for a bushwalk alone about 9.30am on April 19 from Wings Wildlife Park at Gunns Plains, with the intention of following the track to Foggs Flat – a walk of approximately four hours.

Mr Brett said Mr Dent appeared to be in good health and was well equipped for the walk – including having a mobile phone – and was appropriately dressed for the conditions.

During the course of the day, Mr Dent’s wife received a number of telephone calls from him indicating that he was lost but was still hopeful of making his way to a planned meeting spot with her later in the day.

However, about 4pm Mr Dent telephoned his wife and indicated to her that he was tired and dehydrated.

Further conversations indicated that he was lying down and his breathing was heavy and he was coughing, Mr Brett said.

By 8.25pm, Mrs Dent reported to Ulverstone Police that her husband was missing.

Mr Dent’s body was found at 1.10pm the following day by a search team on a track just north of Foggs Flats. He was deceased.

In handing down his findings, the coroner said the case highlighted two specific concerns, including a general perception, particularly among people involved in athletic activities “that one should drink as much as possible and avoid becoming dehydrated during prolonged strenuous exercise.”

Mr Brett said that there was a need for greater education in relation to the danger associated with excessive consumption of fluid during exercise.

“I recommend that health authorities consider and address the question of whether public health education in this area is adequate and/or accurate, having regard to current scientific knowledge,” he said.

Mr Brett also highlighted the issue of bushwalking alone.

“Had Mr Dent been in company, whilst it cannot be said that he would not have suffered the condition that led to his death, I suspect that he would have been in a substantially better condition to cope with the disorientation and fear that arose from being lost.”

Mr Brett said he had decided not to hold an inquest into Mr Dent’s death and conveyed his condolences to Mr Dent’s family and loved ones.

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