'It's a miracle we're alive' - father and son nearly died after inhaling slurry fumes

Farmer Ronnie Hazlett at the scene where he and his son George were involved in a slurry accident.
Farmer Ronnie Hazlett at the scene where he and his son George were involved in a slurry accident.

Leona O'Neill

A farmer who almost died alongside his son during a slurry incident at their farm has said it is "nothing short of a miracle" they are both alive.

Ronnie Hazlett (79) and his son George (44) were overcome by fumes at their Ballyhanedin Road farm near Claudy, Derry, on June 17.

George is still in the high dependency unit at Altnagelvin Hospital after waking up from a coma in intensive care last Friday. He is still unable to speak.

George had collapsed after attempting to rescue lambs from a shed after he mixed hen slurry there. His father found him outside the shed with a lamb in his arms.

"My son George saw there were lambs in the shed," Mr Hazlett said.

"He had been working with the slurry tank and he went back in to rescue the lambs because of the fumes and he got caught.

"He was outside the shed whenever I got him.

"There was a young fella from a neighbouring farm along with him helping him and he ran in to get me to say George was down.

"I ran out. George wasn't down at that stage, he was still standing up, but then he went down, he just went flat out. I thought he was dead.

"I ran to him and I put my two hands on his chest and pressed on it twice. He had his mouth open and I gave him two breaths and then I went out. The fumes overtook me too, even outside the shed in the open air."

Mr Hazlett explained how emergency crews came to their aid.

"The young fella ran into the house and told my wife Hazel what had happened," he added.

"She rang 999 and the ambulances arrived. She rang the neighbours and they ran over. They said George was dead. The ambulances and fire service came. I was out cold but my wife said one of the emergency services guys put up his hand and said that there was no hope for George, however, in the hospital they brought him around.

"It is just a real miracle that he is living."

Emergency services, including the air ambulance, three ambulances and fire crews attended the scene. George and his father were rushed to Altnagelvin Hospital where George remains.

"George is still in the hospital, in the high dependency unit," Ronnie added.

"He was in very bad shape at the start. We genuinely thought he was dead, he was unconscious until last Friday when he woke up. He hasn't been able to speak.

"Last week he had a scan and they said that things were bad, but there is a slight chance for him and that is what we are going on. He is not brain damaged as far as we see.

"He knows what we are talking about but he can't speak. At the start he had an incision in his throat with a pipe in it to help him breath and they still have a feeding tube up his nose. He's not getting solid food yet.

"His wife is a nurse and she hasn't left his side the whole time. She and his boy Matthew (14) were very worried."

Mr Hazlett also spoke of how the incident affected him.

"I woke up in the hospital and I was blind," he added.

"It happened on a Saturday and I couldn't see until Tuesday. I was released from hospital after six days.

"At the start George didn't give us many signs that he would pull through. Last Friday I was holding his hand and I said to him if he could hear me would he squeeze my hand and he did.

"He is a lot better now. They had him out of the bed on a chair at the side of the bed and he was able to take sips of water and a little bit of yoghurt. He was just moved out of intensive care last week."

It is the second near-fatal slurry incident at the family farm.

Thirty-eight years ago, George, who was then six, fell into the same slurry tank while playing with his brothers on the farm. He almost drowned in the tank and had to be rescued by a young neighbour and his mother, who pulled him to safety.

Mr Hazlett warned other farmers to be extremely careful when working with slurry.

"I would warn other farmers to get out and stay out after mixing slurry," he added.

"Stay well clear. Keep out. Start your mix and then go. These slurry incidents can be very bad.

"Both me and my son could be dead because of it.

"It is nothing short of a miracle that we are both alive."

Belfast Telegraph