The day started as any other for Steve and soon he was immersed in his busy schedule. Then time stood still as Steve was emergency airlifted to hospital by helicopter.
Earlier that day Steve was working with the Bobcat when he noticed that the door was open on the truck he was loading with rubbish. With a million things still to do weighing on his mind, Steve undid his seatbelt and stood up with the machine running and leaned out to the left of the machine to close the door.
He did not even feel the boom of the Bobcat move as he accidentally tripped a control lever. Steve recalls: “It wasn't until I felt it crushing me that I said to myself, ‘Stephen, you are dead.' “I said prayers for Jackie my wife and my daughters Jennifer and Melissa and then I blacked out.” Steve manages the Watson Park Convention centre in Dakabin, Queensland.
This centre is adjacent to the grounds of Northpine Christian College, where Steve's daughter, Melissa, is a student.
At the moment of the accident, Melissa happened to look out of the classroom window. She immediately panicked at what she saw and came screaming down to the field.
By the time Melissa arrived, two of Steve's workmates had arrived to find Steve unconscious and pinned by the neck between the Bobcat boom and the edge of the cabin roof. A wrong touch of the controls could have meant death.
One of those who first came to his aid was Matthew Pearce. He recalls, “It was just before lunch. I was standing away from where Steve was operating the Bobcat, cleaning up rubbish. Tom had just parked the truck so Steve could put the rubbish onto the truck. It was quite dusty and the truck door was open so Steve pulled up close to it.” Matthew didn't know what Steve's intention was in so doing. The next thing he noticed the bucket arm swung up, pinning Steve.
Matthew could see immediately that emergency assistance would be needed, so he started yelling, “Call an ambulance!” When Matthew arrived at the Bobcat, he didn't know what to do. Melissa reached the scene and hysterically climbed onto the side of the Bobcat screaming “Get my dad out!” By this time Steve was rapidly changing colour to purple and was unresponsive.
Matthew knew he had to free him from the grip of the machine the quickest way he could. The seconds were ticking away.
“I didn't know what lever to touch or what way to move it. I went to the right side of the machine and went to reach for the lever but something stopped me,” says Andrew. “I immediately went to the other side and reached out for the leaver.
It was as if an angel took my hand and just gently pushed the leaver down. Steve came free and fell to the ground.” Matthew used his hand radio to call for more men to help. With Steve now on the ground, Matthew and Tommy decided to move him away from the machine with its motor still running at full speed. Once he was out of immediate danger, both men worked from instinct despite the emotions they were experiencing. They rolled Steve onto his side in an attempt to revive him.
At first there was no response. They all knew that time was critical.
Steve's mouth was clamped shut. “Steve has a hard bite. I tried to open his mouth by forcing my finger into his mouth. Melissa and Tommy were also trying to do the same,” Andrew recalls.
“Yes, I know they say you should use the person's finger to do that, but there was no time to think about such things.
Finally we succeeded. Air rushed into his mouth and Steve's whole body shook.” As Steve became conscious, he was in pain but he was talking. He kept on repeating “I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry.” By that time, other men had arrived.
They switched the Bobcat off and then came to help Steve, who was already showing signs of shock. The wait for an ambulance dragged on. While they waited they kept talking to Steve and tried to keep him warm. Other staff arrived to shade him.
When the ambulance arrived, the paramedics immediately called for a helicopter airlift and backup. School students had begun to gather to watch, show their sympathy and offer comfort to Melissa. When the helicopter approached, the school headmaster helped move students off the playing field so it could land.
Amazingly, Steve's only injuries were a couple of broken ribs, a paralysed vocal cord and a dissected right common carotid artery, which was of most concern to the doctors. A large prayer chain was set up by church friends as soon as news of the accident broke. His recovery has progressed well, with no long-term complications expected. Even the vocalcord paralysis is gradually resolving.
Thinking back, Steve says, “Having been an ambulance officer for 14 years and after that, working with all kinds of machinery, I should have known better.
But despite my own stupidity, God still stepped in and saved my life. It could have been a very different outcome.” These days one particular Bible text has become especially meaningful to Steve.
Psalm 91:11—“For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.”