A 30-year-old man who was found dead on a bushwalking track in north-west Tasmania last year most likely died from drinking too much water, a coroner has found.
Jonathan Paul Dent died on or about April 19 while walking in the Dial Range at North Motton.
The coroner Michael Brett found Mr Dent most likely died from exercise-related hyponatremia – a lack of sodium in the blood – “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 a medical expert, Anthony Bell, to review the evidence. Professor Bell noted that the autopsy had identified a swollen brain with signs of herniation, which was consistent with excessive water consumption.
According to Mr Brett, Mr Dent had set out for a bushwalk about 9.30am on April 19 from Wing’s Wildlife Park at Gunns Plains and had intended to walk to Foggs Flat, about four hours away.
Mr Brett said Mr Dent was well equipped for the walk – he had a mobile phone and was appropriately dressed for the conditions. He also seemed to be in good health.
After setting out, Mr Dent rang his wife a number of times and indicated he was lost but still hoped to meet her as planned later in the day.
At 4pm, however, he told her he was tired and dehydrated. Further conversations indicated he was lying down and his breathing was heavy and he was coughing.
By 8.25pm, Mrs Dent reported her husband missing. A search team found his body the next day on a track just north of Foggs Flat.
The coroner said the case highlighted the dangers associated with bushwalking alone and the general perception “that one should drink as much as possible and avoid becoming dehydrated during prolonged strenuous exercise”.
He recommended that health authorities look into the adequacy of public education on the dangers of excessive water consumption.
Mr Brett also said: “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.”
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