A meat worker who took a hook through his head from behind was dragged with the chain, as his workmate rushed to stop the machine.
Jason Matahiki, 42, was impaled through the head behind his ear with the 10cm hook, which came out by his eye. He was part of a two-man night-shift team on Tuesday cleaning the spreader hooks on a chain conveyor - which hold carcass legs apart - when one hit him from behind.
"One of these, as it came around, it caught him behind his ear. It just punctured through and came out just through the cheek," a meat works colleague told the Herald yesterday.
As soon as he was struck from behind, his workmate switched the machine down, but the loop chain still took a while to stop, "even though the chain got turned off quickly", the colleague said. "It went in straight away and when it got stuck in there, that was it, he was moving forward with it.
"He was washing the spreaders and one of them came up behind him. It was a freak accident."
Mr Matahiki was an experienced employee, the colleague said.
After 90 minutes on the hook at the Affco meat works in Rangiuru, near Te Puke, ambulance staff numbed his face to the point that he was able to pull the 2cm-thick hook out of his face by himself.
The Fire Service was called to the meatworks and tried to cut the stainless steel hook but were unable to. On-site technicians dismantled part of the machine and chain to get the man down and ambulance staff then treated him.
A St John intensive care paramedic took a photo of the injury, an ambulance spokeswoman said yesterday. That was forwarded to the St John clinical desk, the assistant medical director and the hospital emergency department.
"It was simply for them to be prepared," she said.
The injured man was taken to Tauranga Hospital in a serious condition following the incident on Tuesday night, but was back in his Te Puke home yesterday morning.
"He's in good spirits," although he was not yet ready to talk about the incident, the colleague said.
"The injury itself was mostly superficial - it didn't do any eye or brain damage. It sounds worse than what it was."
However, the colleague said it was still an extremely lucky escape: "It could have been serious. I would say it was only millimetres away [from causing more permanent damage]."
Mr Matahiki had remained conscious and "jovial" during the incident, despite the seriousness of the situation.
"He's that type of person. He's still able to crack a smart line."
Affco operations director Rowan Ogg said the company had been supporting the injured worker since the incident.
Affco and Worksafe were investigating the matter, and government health and safety investigators were at the scene yesterday.
Mr Matahiki would likely return to work next week.