The family of Ariel Vega, who died in a plant room at Wollongong Hospital in 2011, will return to court this week for the second half of an inquest into the Mount St Thomas man’s death.
Mr Vega had been admitted to the hospital on the morning of August 8, 2011, for routine surgery, however went missing from his bed about 6.30pm while recovering in a general ward.
Nurses and security staff launched a extensive search for the missing 78-year-old in the hospital grounds and nearby streets, but failed to locate him.
He was eventually found dead 17 hours later, having broken his neck after falling face down through an aluminium-framed window within a plant room in a restricted part of the hospital.
Mr Vega’s family, including his heartbroken wife, Beatriz, sat through the first three days of the inquest, held in May this year.
They are expected to return to Wollongong courthouse this morning and in the coming days to hear the remainder of the evidence into how the much-loved father, grandfather and husband died.
In the first part of the inquest, the court heard a breakdown in hospital security procedures had allowed Mr Vega to enter the restricted area.
The inquest was told Mr Vega gained access to the plant room through two security doors that were normally locked, however on this occasion had been left propped open.
CCTV footage captured the moment Mr Vega walked through a normally-secured set of double doors into an open-air atrium that was off-limits to patients and under normal circumstances could only be opened with an electronic swipe card.
Mr Vega then accessed the plant room on the opposite side of the atrium, again via an open door, where he ultimately died.
Counsel assisting the coroner, Simeon Beckett, said the plant room doors were meant to shut automatically, however, there was evidence that the closing device was not fully functioning.
Meantime, a nurse who was on duty at the time of Mr Vega’s disappearance broke down in tears when giving evidence in May of how he decided not to search the atrium area shortly before clocking off the evening Mr Vega went missing.
Registered nurse Philip Waples said when he finished his shift at 10pm he decided to look into the atrium area as he was leaving but did not venture further inside.
When asked if he thought at the time it was possible Mr Vega had gone through the doors, Mr Waples said it was possible, but he did not think so because the doors were always locked.
The inquest is expected to continue for another three to four days.
The Illawarra Mercury understands the remaining witnesses include hospital security guards who helped search for Mr Vega when he went missing.
It is also understood the inquest will seek answers to how and why the atrium and plant room doors came to be open on the day in question.