Dr Karl reveals how helium nearly killed him live on television, as Hamish & Andy are criticised for doing same thing in radio prank call


Dr Karl: Cameraman told him to be quiet as he fought for his life

Broadcaster Dr Karl Kruszelnicki has told how how he came within seconds of dying on the floor of a television studio while a cameraman urged him to keep quiet so he didn’t interrupt the show.

The incident came after an on-air segment on Australian breakfast television in which the science expert inhaled helium to raise the pitch of his voice.

Dr Karl described the incident to BBC radio listeners on Thursday night.

His anecdote came as radio presenters Hamish Blake and Andy Lee came under fire for a similar stunt during a prank call on their drive time show on the Today Network this week.

Dr Karl revealed: “I nearly killed myself on air live, imbibing helium. “I blew all the air out of my lungs and brought in a deep lungful of helium, blew out all the air again and sucked in some more helium.

“I timed it really accurately. I did all this in the ten seconds before the camera came onto me on live breakfast television in Australia on a commercial channel, and then I spoke in that funny high voice for about 20 seconds.

“As the camera moved off me, I began to feel a little bit odd. I began to lose my vision. It narrowed down to a single tunnel. I had no control and began to fall to the floor in the TV studio, while I was live.

“I managed to break my fall but made a noise. One of the camera operators turned around and put his fingers to his lips and went ‘shh… don’t make a noise in the studio’.

“I’m lying there on the floor, thinking ‘I’m dying’.

“A small part of me knew I was dying. I began to get weaker and weaker.”

The scientist told listeners to the BBC show Up All Night that at this point he remembered a physiology lecture which had explained that breathing is triggered by the body feeling the urge to expel carbon dioxide.

Because he had forced out the carbon dioxide in his lungs through hyperventilating the helium, his automatic breathing shut down.

“As I was passing out, it came to me: ‘I’m dying because I’m not breathing.'”

Once he realised this, he forced himself to gasp for a breath.

As he lay panting on the floor, the camera operator again whispered to him “Don’t make any noise, get off the floor,” revealed Dr Karl.

Although in his description of the incident this week, he did not mention what TV network the incident involved, he has previously written about the mishap online – saying it occurred on Network Ten’s former breakfast show Good Morning Australia in 1990. The hosts were Kerri Anne Kennerley and Tim Webster.

This week, the Hamish & Andy show came under fire for broadcasting a segment and posting video of the duo inhaling helium from balloons for a prank phone call to the Victorian Institute of Sport.

They pretended to be the pilots of a blimp that was leaking helium into the cockpit, and asked for permission to land on the oval. The person taking the call hung up.

But after posting the video to social media, several Facebook fans warned that demonstrating the apparently harmless stunt could encourage dangerous copycat behaviour.

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In another segment of the Hamish & Andy show, listeners were invited to call in and guess the identity of comedian Ross Noble after he disguised his voice with helium.

Southern Cross Austereo have been approached for comment.

Tim Burrowes


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