‘I ran and saw I was drenched in blood’
Victim: Gudja festa cloud has silver lining
A young bandsman struck by metal debris from an explosion during the Gudja festa does not believe confetti cannon should be banned, even though he knows a blast from one could have killed him.
Bjorn Callus, 25, was playing his euphonium (a brass instrument) as part of the band march when a makeshift confetti cannon being operated by children exploded, leaving him and six other people, including four minors, hospitalised.
Speaking to The Times yesterday from his bed at Mater Dei Hospital, where a large group of friends and family had gathered to wish him a speedy recovery, Mr Callus recounted his harrowing experience.
“I was at the front of the march playing music when I heard an explosion. At first I thought it was a petard. I started to run and told others to run too.
“Within a matter of seconds I realised the cylinder had exploded and my chest felt wet.
“I looked down and saw that I was drenched in blood.
“When I started calling for help I wasn’t shouting because of the pain but because I was losing a lot of blood.
“I also noticed my face was cut right through. I felt the pain when they starting pressing me in order to stop the blood.”
Although initial reports spoke of a gas cylinder having exploded, sources yesterday said the main cylinder, which contained nitrogen, had remained intact.
It was the rest of the contraption that had exploded, primarily another cylinder – probably the kind that is used in air-conditioning systems – that was used as a secondary chamber to dispense the gas slowly (see graphic on inside page).
Sources said this container, which is considerably weaker than the main cylinder, was not designed to be used in this way.
Moreover, enthusiasts said similar home-made systems usually have a pressure gauge. If this gauge was missing or ignored, the container could have been filled excessively, triggering a blast.
Mr Callus was struck in the face and shoulder by metal debris from the contraption, leaving him with a scar on his left cheek measuring almost 10 centimetres.
But his ordeal did not end there and a nightmarish ambulance ride followed.
“It would be an understatement to say we went offroading,” he said with a chuckle as he described how his ambulance hit a central strip and sustained a puncture.
“We arrived practically on the rims because there was no time to replace the tyre. I was losing a lot of blood and they weren’t sure if the shrapnel had struck an artery.”
He praised the “excellent” paramedics and nurses, as well as the fact that the ambulance, which was rented from a private hospital, arrived on time. But he said the road accident caused him a lot of pain since it jolted him upwards.
Mr Callus, who is originally from Vittoriosa but lives in Żabbar, was taking part in the Gudja festa against payment, a common practice nowadays because bands are difficult to complete solely with people from a particular village.
Asked if he thinks the confetti cannons should be banned, he said he was part of the festa culture and understood the beauty of having shredded paper blown on to the crowd during the march.
“These have been used for a while and we never had an incident,” he pointed out.
However, even though he does not want the cannons banned he said it did not make sense for them to be used by children.
“Maybe we should find a middle ground and have some form of regulation to make sure the cylinders are inspected and maintained properly,” he suggested.
Mr Callus is quick to point out the silver lining about the incident, which could have had far worse consequences. If the cylinder debris had hit him in a slightly different way, it could have easily struck his neck or his heart.
“I would have died on the spot,” he said. In addition, more people could have been hurt more seriously had the cylinder exploded seconds later, when a larger crowd of people following the band would have been closer to the confetti cannon.
But mostly, Mr Callus is pleased to know that everyone survived the incident and the 16-year-old boy who suffered serious injuries will not lose his legs, as was previously feared.
“That is very reassuring to hear,” he said.
However, the Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses commented on the incident and complained about the “amateur” way ambulances were managed, pointing out that another rented ambulance used in the same incident took 90 minutes to arrive.
The union has now issued a directive for nurses to stop using hired ambulances or drivers, with immediate effect.
In response, Mater Dei Hospital said an inquiry was under way into the late arrival of an ambulance and promised that “action will be taken accordingly ”.
The hospital also said the MUMN’s directive was unjustified and in breach of the law, while putting the lives of patients in “serious jeopardy ”, meaning the union would have to face any consequences of its actions.
The Union Ħaddiema Magħqudin also joined the fray over the condition of ambulances, directing porters not to assist inadequately trained drivers.
The union complained that it had long been pushing for 10 new drivers to be employed but the health division was instead using a costly outside contractor.