Crane death plunge: friend’s grief after stunt turned tragic

Fenwick Joyce plunged 27 metres. Photo: SuppliedOne after another, the well-dressed northern beaches lads took the stand at the NSW Coroner’s Court and tried to explain why they had decided to break into a construction site and climb a 27-metre high crane.

One after another, they failed to come up with an explanation.

”The approach would have just been ‘let’s go, let’s do it’,” Steve Carroll told the court on Monday.

”I never really thought too much about what [the reward was] … I guess just the adrenaline that goes with it.”

Nineteen months after budding construction manager Fenwick Joyce, 29, fell to his death from a crane on a building site at Montpelier Place, Manly, during drunken Australia Day celebrations, a coronial inquest has brought to light the full circumstances of the incident for the first time.

However, the question of why Joyce and four other young men decided to make the climb is still unclear.

”I’m struggling to understand. Why did you do this,” Deputy State Coroner Sharon Freund asked Mr Carroll.

”It’s a question I ask myself every day,” Mr Carroll replied.

”I’m sure it’s a question Fenwick’s mum asks every day too,” Ms Freund said.

The inquest heard that it was as the young men were climbing down from the very top of the crane, having walked along the crane’s crossbeam, chatting and laughing, that Mr Joyce fell.

”Nils [one of the other climbers] felt something brush against his right arm,” counsel assisting the inquest, Deb Williamson, said.

”He tried to reach out with his right arm and grab him, but it was too late. He saw Fenwick bounce off the railings of the driver’s cabin.

”It appears he tried to jump a short distance onto a pillar but lost his footing.”

A toxicology analysis showed Joyce had a blood alcohol level of 0.228, equivalent to 22 standard drinks. Traces of ecstasy, cocaine and amphetamines were found.

The inquest heard that Joyce was far from alone in being intoxicated. Each partygoer who gave evidence indicated he had been drinking heavily.

Nevertheless, from mid-afternoon onwards, groups of young men began using a ladder to climb into the Lend Lease construction site, before scaling another fence, and climbing the crane.

”There seems to have been a pack mentality,” Ms Freund said.

”They seemed to think, ‘there are some people up the crane so I may as well do it too’.”

The inquest was held at the request of Joyce’s mother, who thinks fencing around cranes needs to be improved to discourage climbing.

”Words can’t explain the effect of losing my son to such a violent death,” Mrs Fenwick said, before breaking down. ”I wish that Fenwick’s life will not be lost in waste and that through this tragedy we can bring protection to others in the community.”

A construction union representative told the inquest that some construction companies were placing wooden hoardings at the base of cranes to make climbing more difficult, and that this should be required by law.

However, WorkCover inspector Kevin Murphy said this would not discourage people from climbing a crane if they were determined to do so.

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