Air hoses from a truck
Truck air hoses can be dangerous; just ask Steven McCormack. Image: archer10 (Dennis)/Flickr/CC BY-SA

A New Zealand man is ambivalent about his new-found celebrity after an injury last Saturday put him in the national news. Steven McCormack has been dubbed “The Human Balloon” by the media after he fell on an air hose, which inflated his body up to three times its normal size.

A freak accident

McCormack, 48, a truck driver, was standing on his truck’s foot plate in the town of Whakatan, N.Z., when he slipped and fell onto an air hose used to power the truck’s brakes. The hose pierced his left buttock and shot compressed air into his body at 100 pounds per square inch, separating the fat from the muscle.

“I felt the air rush into my body, and I felt like it was going to explode from my foot,” McCormack said. “I was blowing up like a football.”

Co-workers heard his screams

McCormack’s co-workers came running when they heard him scream. One of them, company co-owner Robbie Peterson, released a safety valve which stopped the flow of air. McCormack was rushed to a nearby hospital with body swelling and fluid in his lungs.

Treated at a local hospital

At the hospital, doctors inserted a tube into his lungs and drained the fluid. The wound was then cleared with a tool that McCormack described as feeling like a drill. “[That was] the most painful part,” he said.

Lucky to be alive

“They’ve told me I’m lucky to be alive,” he told reporters. If the air had entered his blood stream, the doctors reported, he would not have survived.

Not an easy man to find

Since the accident, McCormack has become something of a media sensation. Reporters from all over the globe have tried to track him down — something that proved to not be such an easy task. McCormack lives in a small, secluded house that he shares with his girlfriend Ali Cooper. The home, tucked in to the side of a gorge south of Opotiki, N.Z., has no power or land line telephone.

A reluctant celebrity

McCormack is grateful for his inaccessibility. “Everyone noticed me. I’m feeling too scared to go into town because of all the publicity. My workmates have already started calling me Balloon,” he said. “I never expected this much publicity. My boss has told me he’s been getting calls from all around the world – Ireland, Aussie, America …”

No pressure to return to work

McCormack’s boss, Robbie Petersen, said it was “kind of entertaining” to receive calls from reporters all over the world. He made it clear that McCormack, whom he called a “bloody lucky guy,” is free to decide when he wants to return to work.


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