Fired: a human cannonball who would not fly

He is accustomed to hurtling through the air at 60mph in a daily death-defying act as a human cannonball. But the circus stuntman Todd Christian was without a job yesterday because of his fear of flying.

Christian, 26, said he fell out with his employers, Cottle & Austen circus, when they tried to send him to a special training camp in Brazil after he injured himself several times during the act. "I know it sounds silly because I'm a human cannonball, but I don't like long flights and if I'm on a plane for a long time I start to panic," he said.

"The circus wanted to send me to have further training at the Guiana space centre in Brazil because they were worried I would hurt myself again. But I refused to go and they sacked me on the spot. I am devastated."

Christian, a former lion trainer and trapeze artist, had worked for the circus for two months before running into trouble with the management, which has a strict safety regime.

Each day, he would climb into a purpose-built cannon to be shot 40 feet above the audience - propelled by compressed air at a pressure of 190 pounds-force per square inch - a performance that imposed great strain on his joints and muscles.

Marnie Dock, the circus's expert cannon trainer, said Christian had been dismissed because he was not in good enough shape for the job.

"Todd simply wasn't fit enough," said Dock, who became the world's first female cannonball at the age of 16. "When we took him on he didn't tell us about previous injuries, and several times over the last couple of months we have had to drop the act from the show because he had injured his knee.

"He was supposed to go to the gym every day but he didn't and when he refused to go on a training course in Brazil we had no choice but to replace him.

Christian, who comes from a circus family and has been performing since the age of four, has asked his lawyer to consider a claim for unfair dismissal.

His role has been taken over by Diego Zeman, a Brazilian known as Diego the Human Rocket, who - unlike Christian - has received the specialist space training that helps him deal with the G-force of being fired through the air at 60mph.

"I feel sorry for Todd but being a human cannonball is what I have always dreamed of doing and I'm very happy," he said.