Darwin Would be Proud

You all know about the Darwin Awards -- It's an annual honor given to the person who did the gene pool the biggest service by killing themselves in the most extraordinarily stupid way. Last year's winner was the fellow who was killed by a Coke machine which toppled over on top of him while he was attempting to tip a free soda out of it.

This year's nominee is: The Arizona Highway Patrol came upon a pile of smoldering metal embedded in the side of a cliff rising above the road at the apex of a curve. The wreckage resembled the site of an airplane crash, but it was a car. The type of car was unidentifiable at the scene. The lab finally figured out what it was and what happened. It seems that a guy had somehow gotten hold of a JATO unit (Jet Assisted Take Off -- actually a solid fuel rocket) that is used to give heavy military transport planes an extra "push" for taking off from short airfields. He had driven his Chevy Impala out into the desert and found a long, straight stretch of road. (Not long enough.) Then he attached the JATO unit to his car, jumped in, got up some speed and fired off the JATO! The facts as best as could be determined are that the operator of the 1967 Impala hit JATO ignition at a distance of approximately 3.0 miles from the crash site. This was established by the prominent scorched and melted asphalt at that location. The JATO, if operating properly, would have reached maximum thrust within 5 seconds, causing the Chevy to reach a speed well in excess of 350 mph and continuing at full power for an additional 20-25 seconds. The driver, soon to be pilot, most likely would have experienced G-forces usually reserved for dog fighting F-14 jocks under full afterburners, basically causing him to become insignificant for the remainder of the event. However, the automobile remained on the straight highway for about 2.5 miles (15-20 seconds) before the driver applied and completely melted the brakes, blowing the tires and leaving thick rubber marks on the road surface. He then became airborne for an additional 1.4 miles and impacted the cliff face at a height of 125 feet leaving a blackened crater 3 feet deep in the rock. Most of the driver's remains were not recoverable; however, small fragments of bone, teeth and hair were extracted from the crater and fingernail and bone shards were removed from a piece of debris believed to be a portion of the steering wheel. NOTE: Solid-fuel rockets don't have an 'off'... once started, they burn at full thrust 'till the fuel is all gone.

This year's runner-up:

An insurance company asked for more information regarding a work-related accident claim. This was the response: "I put 'poor planning' as the cause of my accident. I am an amateur radio operator and was working on the top section of my new 80 foot tower. When I had completed my work, I discovered that I had, over the course of several trips up the tower, brought up about 300 pounds of tools and spare hardware. Rather than carry the materials down by hand, I decided to lower the items using a pulley. Securing the rope at ground level, I went to the top of the tower and loaded the tools into a small barrel. Then I went back to the ground and untied the rope, holding it tightly to ensure a slow descent of the 300 pounds of tools. You will note in block number 11 of the accident report that I weigh 155 pounds. Due to my surprise of being jerked off the ground so suddenly, I lost my presence of mind and forgot to let go of the rope. I proceeded at a rather rapid rate of speed up the side of the tower. In the vicinity of the 40 foot level, I met the barrel coming down. This explains my fractured skull and broken collarbone. Slowed only slightly, I continued my rapid ascent, not stopping until the fingers of my right hand were two knuckles deep into the pulley. I regained my presence of mind and was able to hold onto the rope in spite of my pain. At the same time, however, the barrel of tools hit the ground and the bottom fell out of the barrel. Devoid of the weight of the tools, the barrel now weighed approximately 20 pounds. I refer you again to my weight in block number 11. As you might imagine, I began a rapid descent down the side of the tower. In the vicinity of the 40 foot level, I met the barrel coming up. This accounts for the two fractured ankles, and the lacerations of my legs and lower body. The encounter with the barrel slowed me enough to lessen my injuries when I fell onto the pile of tools so only three vertebrae were cracked. I am sorry to report, however, that as I lay on the tools, in pain, unable to stand and watching the empty barrel 80 feet above me, I again lost my presence of mind and let go of the rope..."

....and yet one more:

Larry Walters is among the relatively few who have actually turned their dreams into reality. His story is true, though you may find it hard to believe. Larry was a truck driver, but his lifelong dream was to fly. When he graduated from high school, he joined the Air Force in hopes of becoming a pilot. Unfortunately, poor eyesight disqualified him. So when he finally left the service, he had to satisfy himself with watching others fly the fighter jets that crisscrossed the skies over his backyard. As he sat there in his lawn chair, he dreamed about the magic of flying. Then one day, Larry Walters got an idea. He went down to the local army-navy surplus store and bought a tank of helium and forty-five weather balloons. These were not your brightly colored party balloons, these were heavy-duty spheres measuring more than four feet across when fully inflated.

Back in his yard, Larry used straps to attach the balloons to his lawn chair, the kind you might have in your own back yard. He anchored the chair to the bumper of his jeep and inflated the balloons with helium. Then he packed some sandwiches and drinks and loaded a BB gun, figuring he could pop a few of those balloons when it was time to return to earth. His preparations complete, Larry Walters sat in his chair and cut the anchoring cord. His plan was to lazily float back down to terra firma. But things didn't quite work out that way. When Larry cut the cord, he didn't float lazily up; he shot up as if fired from a cannon! Nor did he go up a couple hundred feet. He climbed and climbed until he finally leveled off at eleven thousand feet! At that height, he could hardly risk deflating any of the balloons, lest he unbalance the load and really experience flying! So he stayed up there, sailing around for fourteen hours, totally at a loss as to how to get down. Eventually, Larry drifted into the approach corridor for Los Angeles International Airport. A Pan Am pilot radioed the tower about passing a guy in a lawn chair at eleven thousand feet with a gun in his lap. (Now there's a conversation I'd have given anything to have heard!) LAX is right on the ocean, and you may know that at nightfall, the winds on the coast begin to change. So, as dusk fell, Larry began drifting out to sea. At that point, the Navy dispatched a helicopter to rescue him. But the rescue team had a hard time getting to him, because the draft from their propeller kept pushing his home-made contraption farther and farther away. Eventually they were able to hover over him and drop a rescue line with which they gradually hauled him back to earth. As soon as Larry hit the ground, he was arrested. But as he was being led away in handcuffs, a television reported called out, "Mr. Walters, why'd you do it?" Larry stopped, eyed the man, then replied nonchalantly, "A man can't just sit around."

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