How idyllic day turned to tragedy for Aussie tourist
AFTER a summer's day together exploring New Zealand's north island with boyfriend Jared Wilford, Ashleigh Dargusch decided she wanted to go for a swim.
The 23-year-old Australian and her Kiwi-born boyfriend, with three other friends, headed along a track in the Kauaeranga Valley on Coromandel Peninsulato a waterhole.
Two of the group jumped from the ledge into the water. Seconds later Ms Dargusch lost her footing and fell about 7m on to slate rock.
She suffered a severe head injury and last Saturday, one week later, her life support was turned off.
Yesterday Mr Wilford spoke to the Herald about the day he lost the love of his life. The couple would have celebrated their second anniversary on Valentine's Day.
"She wanted to go for a swim ... We were having a really great time [but] because of the way it ended it was a terrible day," he said.
"I haven't quite realised that she has gone ... I don't want to believe she has gone."
Mr Wilford grew up in Thames and has been living in Brisbane for a few years.
"We met when I was working as a computer repair person and she had a broken computer. She brought it in to fix and we got talking - a lot," he said.
"We came back so we could spend Christmas with my family. I hadn't had one at home in three years and she wanted to come over and do the whole family thing."
Mr Wilford never imagined that idyllic December day would end in tragedy.
Ms Dargusch was taken to Waikato Hospital's emergency department by rescue helicopter and put on life support.
Her parents and siblings flew to New Zealand on December 29 and on Saturday, with Mr Wilford, made the decision to stop the treatments and machines that were keeping her alive.
"Once they turned her life support off it took 8 hours until she passed," said Mr Wilford, who stayed by her bedside and held her hand.
He said having his partner's family alongside him was a comfort.
"It was nice to share some of the burden a little bit, " Mr Wilford said. "I felt so guilty. I feel so guilty ... "
He will remain in New Zealand until Ms Dargusch's body can be returned to Brisbane.
"She hates travelling alone ... so we will travel home together," he said.
Mr Wilford described his partner as bubbly. "She was always smiling and if you look through her Facebook photos she has always got this great big smile on her face. All of her friends knew her for her smile," he said.
Ms Dargusch worked as a receptionist at a Brisbane physiotherapy clinic.
"She loved the people at her job. She was always baking them cupcakes and taking them into work. Everyone loved that," said Mr Wilford.
Ms Dargusch's boss Scott Hewett said she was an extremely valuable staff member.