Daniel Miller promised his wife, Saimaa, he’d never leave her. But could he stay alive until help arrived?
When Saimaa Miller first set eyes on her future husband, Daniel, she was attracted by his stoicism. A friend of her builder in Bondi, Sydney, he’d joined them for drinks the day his dog had died. He is the sort of man I’d like to be with, she thought. A few months later, she walked out of her Bondi naturopathy practice and he was standing outside, waiting for her. She knew at that moment he would be her partner for life.
They soon moved in together and before long, in 2007, had found the perfect property in Charlotte Bay, on the NSW mid-north coast. Daniel, a qualified builder and landscaper, could develop the land into a yoga retreat and one day they could imagine their children running around its grassy paddocks.
“Don’t you die before me,” Saimaa would often joke. Her mother had passed away when she was just 13, and it was unimaginable that she could be left alone again.
“I promise,” Daniel replied.
A few years later and the dream had come true. The children, Kalan and Leilani, were nine and four, and the family had made the property their permanent home, with Saimaa commuting three hours each week to see her clients at her Bondi clinic.
That’s where she was that day in February earlier this year. With the children at day care and the school swimming carnival, Daniel, 45, thought he’d finish the landscaping around a dam about 50 metres from the house. He’d been meaning to tidy up an old rock garden against the dam wall.
Using his three-tonne mini excavator, Daniel started to shift some of the larger boulders and plants. It hadn’t rained for a long time and the water in the dam on the other side of the wall was very low. He steered the excavator to the edge of the dam and lowered the bucket to drag out a load of mud.
Just then, the excavator started to slide with the weight. Used to working with heavy machinery, Daniel wasn’t alarmed when the excavator slipped in its tracks. He quickly lowered the bucket to the ground to act as a counterweight and stabilise the excavator. As he did this, the wall gave way and the excavator slid towards the water.
In sheer panic, Daniel pushed himself away from the machine to try to clear its weight. Man and machine crashed into the muddy floor of the dam, the excavator tipped onto its side and the roll bar landed on his back just below his shoulder blades. He was pinned down under the water.
I’ve got to get out of here, Daniel screamed to himself, pulling his body forwards with all his might to try to get his head above water. He wriggled and squirmed until the roll bar was across his lower back, but he couldn’t get it past his buttocks.
Jamming his hands into the mud, Daniel arched his back and pushed as hard as he could until his head was above water. He then grabbed a full breath of glorious air. I can’t die first was all he could think.