Whanau mourn tragic loss after deadly wasp attack

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A man who was attacked by thousands of wasps told his nephew to run before being stung to death.

Morris Robert Stretch, 62, had been living in the Marlborough Sounds for only four weeks when he died at a family property in Kenepuru Sound, north of Sandy Bay, on Saturday morning.

He and his nephew were collecting firewood when they disturbed a wasp nest, Senior Constable Andrew Wilson of Havelock police said.

They ran in different directions from the wasps and, when the nephew went to find Mr Stretch, he was already lying dead on the ground.

Mr Stretch was probably stung thousands of times, Mr Wilson said. “He obviously suffered quite a significant amount of stings. It’s hard to fathom how horrible that must have been.”

Last night Mr Stretch’s niece, Darcia Mangakahiao, said the whanau were reeling at the loss of a “real family man”.

Her brother, who was with Mr Stretch at the time, was rushed to hospital with stings to his back and arms. He was “absolutely devastated” by their uncle’s death.

“He [Mr Stretch] told my brother to run but I think, in the end, his heart is what took his life, because of the panic from the wasps.”

Her uncle had moved south to be with his sister, to whom he was close, and the church had become an important part of his life.

He had worked at a cleaning firm in Palmerston North before retiring and left behind two children and several grandchildren. “He’s got lots of friends and lots of extended family who will be absolutely blown away.”

Kenepuru Fire Party volunteer Stefan Schulz was first on the scene after the nephew rang for help and said Mr Stretch’s head and face were covered with stings.

“When I arrived, everything was basically already over. [The nephew] had tried everything and all I could do was confirm his opinion that his companion was already dead.”

Insect ecologist Richard Toft said the native beech forests around Nelson Lakes and the Marlborough Sounds were home to the densest populations of wasps in the world, attracted by the trees’ honeydew.

“It supercharges the wasp population in those areas. You’re getting up to 20 nests in an area the size of a football field. Then on the coastal fringes and on nearby farmland you’re still getting high numbers.

“It’s a big issue for forestry workers. We do get cases quite regularly of workers needing medical assistance in a hurry if they have an allergic reaction.

“Wasps will often sting in response to smelling other venom, so if you get stung once it can trigger an aggressive reaction from other wasps.”

Conservation Department representative Maurice Brown said most staff and hunters carried epi-pens, which delivers a dose of adrenaline, as a precaution. The devices had saved one person’s life after he was stung 18 times by wasps a couple of years ago.

Mr Stretch’s body will be taken to Kereru Marae in Levin today before his funeral on Wednesday.

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