Teacher dies in fairground tragedy

Gareth Wilson wilsong@avusa.co.za

A FUN end-of-year celebration went horribly wrong for a group of Port Elizabeth primary school teachers yesterday when a fairground ride at the Open Sky Entertainment Park in Little Chelsea toppled over, crushing one of them.

Forty-six-year-old Ernest Meyer, a Grade 7 natural sciences teacher and sports coach at Bethelsdorp’s Astra Primary School, died when the 24-seater swing carousel landed on top of him. Seven of his colleagues, who were also on the ride, escaped with slight injuries.

Police are investigating the “freak accident”.

Amusement park staff angle-ground the swing’s iron frame in half in an attempt to save Meyer before fire department and ambulance officials arrived.

Emergency service officials said Meyer had died from organ failure as a result of being crushed.

Police spokesman Alwin Labans said the incident had happened shortly after 10am when the 27 teachers had just finished breakfast. “There were eight teachers on the swing and when it fell it landed directly on top of Meyer,” he said.

“Moments after the incident, labourers and other workers ran over to assist the injured.

“The workers immediately started to angle-grind the steel frame and managed to lift it by placing logs underneath.”

When a Herald team arrived at Astra Primary School, two staff members were spotted crying in their offices. Devastated principal Desmond Lewis said the staff were in shock and traumatised.

“Some staff went to their doctors to be treated for shock and others went straight home.

“It is a very sad day for the school as we have lost a dear and dedicated colleague,” he said.

“Ernest was more than a teacher  …  he was a very dear friend of mine and we are all still trying to come to terms with what happened.”

Lewis was on his way to the end-of-year function when he was notified about the accident.

“When I arrived, it was chaos. Everyone was still in shock.

“Shortly afterwards, the few staff who had stayed behind at the school held a prayer meeting while the remaining teachers at the venue also had a prayer meeting,” an emotional Lewis said, struggling to hold back tears. “He was a very passionate teacher and went out of his way to assist the pupils and his colleagues.

“Ernest always had good ideas and wanted to implement various plans in the new year which would assist the pupils.”

Lewis notified Meyer’s wife shortly after the incident. He said she was too upset to comment. “She is very, very traumatised. I am going to take her to the mortuary as she wants to see him,” he said.

The entertainment park’s health and safety inspector, Herman van der Merwe, said the owners did not want to comment until the investigation had been concluded. “Due to a machine being involved [in the tragedy], we are unable to comment until the Department of Labour and other role-players have conducted their investigation.”

Van der Merwe said he would also be conducting an internal investigation.

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