The 2004 Darwin Awards

Named in honor of Charles Darwin, the father of evolution, the Darwin Awards commemorate those who improve our gene pool by removing themselves from it.

Rutting Contest

(October 2004, Chiayi, Taiwan) Most rutting contests involve two male mammals, like the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep (Ovis dallis), which ram into each other at high speed in order to impress a female sheep and win the right to procreate. These mammals tend to have unusually thick skulls and extra fluid surrounding the brain to prevent damage from the competition. Humans tend not to have such thick skulls and other natural adaptations, and therefore do not generally rut.

Of course man, the tool user, can find artificial means to overcome natural limitations. One well-known example of this behavior is the medieval jousting contest in which participants wear armor and ride horses toward each other at high speed.

The most recent observation of human rutting behavior occurred when two Taiwanese university students donned protective helmets and revved their motor scooters in an effort to impress a comely female of their species. The two were the same class, but not friends. Other classmates reported that both men fancied the same female student.

After indulging in a few drinks during the Mid-Autumn Festival, the two encountered each other, and words were spoken. The gauntlet was thrown down. In lieu of horses, the two would ride their motor scooters at each other at high speed, and the one who didn't turn away would win the exclusive right to pursue the female.

Obviously both were very keen on her, because neither of them turned away. Their scooters collided head-on at 50 mph. Both died instantly. The girl at the center of the rut refused to comment, other than to say that she "wasn't interested in either of them."

Spy vs. Self

"Hold my beer and watch this!"

(28 May 2004, Italy) Fabio, 28, left the family ostrich business for a new job as a truck driver. But his interests were more eclectic than the average ostrich-farming truck driver. Relaxing one evening with friends at a pub in Cursi, Fabio shifted the conversation to his new interest in spy gadgets. He pulled an ordinary-looking pen out of his pocket and explained that it was actually a single-shot pistol. To demonstrate, he pointed it at his head and clicked the button. The cleverly disguised gadget worked perfectly, sending a .22-caliber bullet into Fabio's left occipital lobe.

Reader Comments:

"Well... it worked!"

"Here look... I'm a double naught spy!"

Reader Hana points out suspiciously, "The story tells us that he was shot in the occipital lobe, but the occipital lobe is located at the back of the head. Why would he aim the pen at the back of his head instead of the side or front?"

Reader Wumpus says, "The bullet would have had to enter from the back, because it wouldn't have enough force to pass through the front of the face and reach the occipital lobe. A low-caliber weapon might even bounce off the skull. Ronald Reagan was shot in the ribs with a low-caliber weapon, and it just bounced off."

Reader Alex argues, "A .22 cartridge has more than enough power to penetrate any area of a human skull and pass through the brain, at point blank range or not. Just pointing this out in case there is any one out there contemplating putting the Hana theory to the test and unadvertedly taking out a Darwin award."

Wumpus replies, "Alex must be thinking of a .22 fired from a rifle, which has a lot more oomph, due to the rifling and the acceleration of a longer barrel."

Reader JD clarifies, "It's called the "Pengun", and it's 22LR. At 4-5 paces, that means; "OW! F*** you, too!" Pressed against the brow, though... the local butcher uses the same caliber to kill steers. I may be more thick-headed than the average man, but I suspect cattle are more so..."

Reader Cory says, ".22 caliber pistols were once the pistol of choice for assasins. They have enough power to enter the skull, but not enough to come out the other side. While the bullet is inside the skull however, it tends to bounce around like a pinball shredding everything inside. So it very well could hit the lobe, regardless of where the bullet entered."

Ms. Darwin concludes, "And that's the last I want to hear on this subject! It's all hand-waving and speculation! Sheesh!"

Man Drowns in Kitchen Sink

(26 May 2004, Wolfsberg, Austria) The manager of an apartment house was surprised to find the legs of a corpse sticking out an apartment window. Police entered the apartment and found the deceased man's head soaking in a sink full of hot water.

Apparently the out-of-work Austrian had returned home after a night of drinking and drugs. He decided to slip in through the kitchen window. The window was fixed at the base and tilted out, giving him just enough room to squeeze his head through as far as the sink before he got stuck. While flailing around trying to escape, he turned on the hot water tap.

Police were not sure why he had not turned off the water, pulled the plug, or--perhaps most important--entered through the front door, since they found the keys in his pants pocket.

Do-It-Yourself Landmine

(27 May 2004, Italy) When Peraldo found sticks of old dynamite in an abandoned stable on the hill above his vineyard, he decided to bury the problem. Some might think that burying unstable dynamite would be...unwise. But not Peraldo, a 67-year-old retired entrepreneur, who had been an explosives expert in the army. He had also worked as a licensed "fuochino" in charge of explosives at construction sites prior to his retirement. He knew the ways of things that go boom.

This dynamite had been sitting around for some time, decaying and sweating highly unstable nitroglycerin. Peraldo carefully placed the high explosives in a hole thirty meters away from the stable, and gently covered them with loose earth. Apparently the mound was a little too high to be aesthetically attractive, so Peraldo began patting it down with his hands...

The massive blast rocked the entire town of Chiavenna. Police rushed to the vineyard to investigate. Peraldo was found torn to shreds, but miraculously, still alive and able to explain what had happened before he died from internal injuries.

4-1-0 Club

(14 October 2004, Missouri) When Peter and Jesse wanted to see what their new ride could do, like many young men, they got more than they bargained for. It was all fun and games until the vehicle stalled. In most cases this wouldn't be a serious problem -- but Peter and Jesse stalled at 41,000 feet.

You see, they weren't pushing the old man's car to the limit. They were flying a 50-passenger jet, a Bombardier CRJ200. Fortunately, there were no passengers aboard to share the fatal consequences.

Jesse, 31, was captain of Pinnacle Airlines Flight 3701, and Peter, 23, was the co-pilot. They were transporting an empty plane from Little Rock, Arkansas to Minneapolis, where it was needed for a morning flight. They decided to see what that baby could do. Their fun began while ascending, as they pulled 1.8 G's in a maneuver that activated an automatic stall avoidance system.

Then they decided to "forty-one it," take the jet to 41,000 feet--eight miles--the maximum altitude the plane was designed to fly. The thrust of the engines pressed them into their seats with 2.3 times the force of gravity as they soared ever higher, laughing and cursing in a friendly manner, ignoring the overheating engines, and the stick shaker that warned they were operating outside of safe aerodynamic parameters.

At this point, Air Traffic Control contacted the pilots to find out what they were up to. A female controller's voice crackled over the radio: "3701, are you an RJ-200?"

"That's affirmative."

"I've never seen you guys up at 41 there."

The boys laughed. "Yeah, we're actually a, there's ah, we don't have any passengers on board, so we decided to have a little fun and come on up here."

Little did they know that their fun was doomed when they set the auto-pilot for the impressive climb. They had specified the rate of climb rather than the speed of the climb. The higher the plane soared, the slower it flew. The plane was in danger of stalling when it reached 41,000 feet, as the autopilot vainly tried to maintain altitude by pointing the nose up.

"Dude, it's losing it," said one of the pilots.

"Yeah," said the other.

Our two flying aces could have saved themselves at that point. An automatic override began to pitch the nose down to gain speed and prevent a stall. Unfortunately, Jesse and Peter chose to overrule the override. Oops. The plane stalled.

"We don't have any engines," said one.

"You gotta be kidding me," said the other.

Jesse and Peter still might have saved themselves. They were within gliding range of five suitable airports. Unfortunately, they did not reveal the full extent of their difficulties to the controller. They said that they had lost only one of the two engines. They glided for 14 full minutes, losing altitude all the way. As they drifted closer and closer to the ground at high speed, still unable to get the engines restarted, they finally asked for assistance: "We need direct to any airport. We have a double engine failure."

Unfortunately, it was too late. "We're going to hit houses, dude," one of pilots said, as they desperately tried to reach an airport in Jefferson City. They missed the houses and the runway, crashing two and a half miles from the airport. Both men died in the crash.

"It's beyond belief that a professional air crew would act in that manner," said a former manager of Pinnacle's training program for the Bombardier CRJ200.

Stepping Out

(12 April 2004, Netherlands) Certain land animals have evolved over the millennia to use speed in the pursuit or prey or avoidance of predators. The cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) can run as fast as 60 mph over the plains of Africa, and the pronghorn antelope (Antilocapra americana) can reach 55 mph over the plains of North America. Humans (Homo sapiens) are not among these animals built for speed. The very fastest human can achieve a maximum sprint of 16 mph for short distances.

So things were bound to go wrong when a 19-year-old male, driving the A67 highway near the Dutch town of Blerick, sought to impress his two passengers by putting his car on cruise control at 20 mph, getting out of the car, and running alongside it. He planned to jump back in and drive on, but the moment his feet hit the ground, he fell over and slammed head first into the asphalt. He was admitted to the hospital with severe brain damage, and died the next day.

Reader Jacob says, "Your statement that a human can achieve a maximum sprint of 16 mph for short distances, is incorrect. According to the Guiness Book of World Records, the fastest 100m dash time is less than 10 seconds, resulting in an average speed of 23 mph from a dead stop."

Reader Aaron says, "The current world record for a 100m sprint is 9.77 seconds, for an average of 22.9 miles/hour, so his top speed must have been higher. I believe that Ignisious Gaisah achieved a top speed of 45km/h (28mph). Also, many people are able to 'run' on a treadmill while holding a support bar at speeds greater than 20 miles per hour. It seems that this Darwin Winner's stupidity was not in the speed but in the fact that he was simply uncoordinated. Is uncoordination really a lack of common sense?"

Reader Will points out pettishly, "it isn't the fact that someone can run over twenty miles and hour, it is the fact that all of a sudden your legs have to go from zero to 20 instantly. "

"Who Wants Summa This?"

(10 November 2004, Wales) Kebab-eating amateur rugby player Gareth, 22, was a bit wobbly after a pub crawl with his friends. His flat was filled with men and women when he pulled down his pants and waddled over to the window, shouting "Who wants summa this?" to the empty street below. A friend grabbed him before he could fall out the window.

In the morning when they awoke from their drunken stupor, Gareth admitted it was a pretty stupid thing to do. But that didn't stop the determined Darwin Award candidate from successfully trying again.

The very next night, with his blood-alcohol level at four times the legal limit, just short of lethal intoxication, he pulled down his pants again and waddled over to the open window, shouting "Who wants summa this?" Nobody was near enough to grab him this time. A friend told the coroner's court that he bent forward and went out the window, hands flailing. Gareth was found outside, impaled on a spike fence below.

Watch Out for That Tree!

(11 May 2004, South Africa) The mighty oak trees of Stellenbosch, a city near Cape Town, were planted over 300 years ago. In recent years, they have begun to succumb to disease. The city has been cutting them down and planting new trees.

A man was sitting at a cafe, watching a team with loud chain saws working to remove a tree whose center had become dangerously decayed. The arborists had marked the danger zone with red and white barrier tape, and posted notices of danger, taking every precaution to prevent damage to property or persons.

Just as the tree was ready to fall, and the chainsaw operator was making the final cut, our man jumped up from his seat in the cafe. He ducked under the safety tape and started hurrying up the pavement to meet his girlfriend at a nearby shop. Despite the workers' frantic shouts, he continued toward the tree that by this time was falling as planned.

The chainsaw operator tried a desperate tackle to get him out the way, but it was too late. Missing the would-be rescuer by inches, the tree landed on the man's head, killing him instantly. And that is how one can qualify for a Darwin Award simply by walking under a tree.

Aim to Win

(21 February 2004, Ottawa, Canada)  Ameer, a second-year engineering student at Carleton University, was celebrating his 20th birthday with friends in his 11th-floor apartment when they embarked on a spitting contest. His two friends had already made their marks. Ameer thought he could use his engineering skills to improve his performance. A quick mental calculation of trajectory, projectile velocity, and wind speed indicated that winning required more than a simple "stand and spit" technique. Ameer took a running start, flew over the balcony railing, and plunged to his death.

"It was purely accidental," said Ottawa police, "momentum carried him beyond." The building's security guard heard the thud. "He was one of the smartest guys I ever met in my life," the guard said. "He had a maturity beyond his age."

Spitting contest deaths are becoming a trend. In 1999, a 25-year-old soldier in Alabama won the first Darwin Award in this category in 1999, using the same technique and achieving the same result. 23-year-old Bartosz of Mt. Prospect, was nominated for falling 20 feet onto his head in December 2005. Bartosz is remarkable for having fallen over an apartment railing without running start. But Ameer clearly trumps his competitors with his 11-story fall.

Perhaps the three have reunited in the afterlife, arm in arm, sailing through the air, their projectiles suspended in front of them like bullets in the Matrix movies.

Hold That Bus!

(2 November 2004, Portland, Oregon) Dianne, a 56-year-old bus driver with 22 years of experience, pulled into the Sunset Transit Center shortly before noon. She was running six minutes late, and was eager to use the bathroom.

After waiting impatiently for her passengers to disembark, Dianne hurried off the bus, leaving the engine in gear and running, with no parking brake engaged. She walked around the front of the bus and reached in the driver's window to pull the lever that closed the door.

The bus is equipped with automatic brakes that keep it from moving as long as the doors are open. Once the doors shut, the brakes release after a one-and-a-half-second delay.

As Dianne passed in front of the bus on her way to the toilet, she suddenly found the 15-ton bus creeping slowly towards her. She could have jumped out of the way. In fact, she could have ambled out of the way. Instead, witnesses watched her push against the bus with her arms outstretched, in an effort to stop it.

The mass of a bus is more than 200 times the mass of an adult woman. You do the math. The bus did indeed stop, eventually, due to circumstances other than Dianne's efforts.

Paramedics arrived within minutes, to find Dianne dead beneath the bus.

An investigation blamed the accident on "operator error."

Bannister to Heaven

(20 July 2004, Florida) The Kleman Plaza parking garage in Tallahassee has the ideal bannister for a long slide, spiraling around an open stairwell all the way down from the fifth floor without a break. Brian, 24, was a real-life hero who had saved a friend from drowning, but friends said he was also a "big fan of reality TV and high-risk stunts." The bannister was his big chance!

But just sliding down the 5-story bannister was nowhere near risky enough for Brian, so he planned to leap onto the bannister to begin his slide. He ran, he jumped... and he sailed completely over it, plunging 52 feet to the bottom of the stairwell. A friend fondly reminisced that "Brian had done crazier things than this" before. But this was Brian's first stunt spectacular enough to win a Darwin Award.

According to a police investigation, "alcohol may have been a factor."

Right Over the Dam

(24 July 2004, Wisconsin) Barbara, 26, must have listened too many times to the old song "High Hopes" and its verse about a perky little fish: " And she swam, and she swam right over the dam." But Barbara needed more than willpower to fulfill her high hopes, when she decided to take the shortest route between the Upper Dells and the Lower Dells.

She piloted a personal watercraft at high speed past numerous signs warning craft to slow down because of the imminent danger. She wove through the support posts of two separate bridges, one for trains, and one for cars. She ignored the screaming pleas of her 24-year-old passenger, who finally jumped off at the last minute. And she did it--she soared over that dam like a flying fish.

Then she crash-landed on the concrete spillway, dying instantly from massive head injuries.

Nearby residents told police that Barbara had been speeding like a maniac at high speeds in no-wake zones near the shore, despite the many posted warnings. Blood tests showed she had also been drinking like a fish. When asked to comment on her demise, the Police Chief said, "It kind of speaks for itself."

Terminal Creativity

(3 April 2004, Orem, Utah) Bobby, 51, had trouble getting his truck to start. He couldn't be in two places at once, both working under the hood and pressing the accelerator. Why not take a handy ice scraper, and wedge one end against the accelerator and the other end against the seat? Then he could get under the hood and bypass the starter by connecting terminals on the starter solenoid.


Unfortunately he had forgotten to put the truck in neutral and it began accelerating toward his neighbor's motor home. Police concluded that Bobby jumped in front of the truck to prevent it from crashing into the motor home. He was partly successful. A neighbor found him pinned between the truck and the motor home, nearly dead. Paramedics rushed him to Timpanogos Regional Hospital, where the car mechanic died from terminal creativity.

Apparently Bobby is in good company According to Reader Bill Hunt, Playboy Playmate Petra Verkaik almost killed herself when she started her VW Bus as usual, by using a screwdriver from underneath the bus. Unfortunately, she had it in gear and it rolled over her.

Chicken to Go

(3 October 2004, Galati, Romania) Constantin, 67, lived in a formerly peaceful village near Galati. But lately Constantin couldn't get any sleep, all because of a single noisy chicken. Night after night he dreamed of wringing its neck, or even better, chopping its head off and eating it. One night, he finally had enough. He roused himself from bed and headed out to the yard in his underwear, determined to bring silence to his home.

The sleep-deprived villager grabbed that chicken by the neck and chopped its head right off. Only then did he realize that he had confused his own penis for the chicken's neck. While Constantin stood stunned by his folly, his dog rushed over and gobbled up the treat.

He was rushed to the hospital, bleeding heavily. Doctors sewed up the wound and pronounced him out of danger. He is also in no danger of reproducing.

Tree vs. Man

(21 December 2004, Georgia) It looked at first like a bizarre traffic accident. Smoke rose from the charred remains of a large tree that had toppled onto a smoldering pickup truck. The body of a man, burned beyond recognition, was found inside the truck. Investigators were puzzled. How could the truck have collided with a tree behind a house? And why did the tree fall onto the truck instead of away from it? And what had started the fire?

As the pieces of the puzzle fell into place, it became clear that the dead man was the victim of his own good deed. Reggie, 47, had offered to remove a tree behind his girlfriend's house. He borrowed his father's pickup truck, apparently in the belief that he could yank out the bottom of the tree, which would then, cartoon-like, fall away from the truck. He tied the truck to the tree and floored the accelerator.

The uprooted tree, pulled in the direction of the force, toppled onto the truck, crushing the cab and trapping Reggie. The still-running engine eventually overheated, starting a grass fire which ignited the truck's gas tank, turning it into a fireball that spread to the tree.

Thankfully for Reggie, police determined that he was probably dead before the truck caught fire.

Cold Call

(20 January 2004, Ventnor, New Jersey) A high school student accidentally dropped his cell phone from the Dorset Avenue Bridge. Fortunately the river had frozen over, so the phone landed on the ice, apparently intact. To a dedicated cell phone user, losing one's phone is like losing an appendage. And what loyal friend would not try to retrieve your arm or leg if it had somehow fallen off a bridge and landed on thin ice? The survival of our species depends on mutual support.

Two days later, Bruce, 17, volunteered to fetch the phone. He figured the ice, which was only an inch thick in places, was strong enough to hold him for the rescue mission. Another friend urged Bruce to give up and go back to shore. "I can do it," Bruce insisted.

A bridge attendant also warned him to stay off the ice, but, as his mother explained, "It's just something Bruce would have done." The attendant rushed to his post to call the police. He was on the phone when a bystander told him that someone had fallen in. An officer arrived at the scene moments later to find Bruce partially submerged in the 35-degree water. The officer dashed to his car for a rescue buoy. When he returned, Bruce had already gone under. His body was recovered the next morning.

Bruce did not die in vain. The cell phone was recovered.

(10 February 2004, New York) Exactly three weeks later, 18-year-old Lina, of Queens, jumped onto the subway tracks to retrieve her new cell phone just as the V train was rounding the corner into the Grand Avenue station. She apparently expected to hop right back up onto the platform, five feet above the tracks, but after two attempts, she was still stuck. As the lights of the oncoming train shone in the tunnel, two men tried to pull her up, but she was knocked out of their hands as the train rushed into the station, emergency brakes squealing. She died along with her cell phone.

Reader Comments:

"Let the cell phone go!"

"And we think our cell phone bills are high!"

"Proof that using a cell phone causes brain damage?"

Damned if You Do...

(6 September 2004, Romania) A Pitesti man with a metal ring stuck on his penis was being sought by doctors, after he fled the hospital consumed by panic.

The unidentified 42-year-old said he put the ring on his penis after losing a bet during a drinking game at a pub. He was subsequently unable to remove the ring. Embarrassment kept him from seeking immediate medical help, but after two days, unbearable pain overcame unbearable shame, and he took his smelly and discolored member in for treatment.

Doctors told him the bad news. Gangrene had set in, and his life was in danger. The blood supply had been cut off for too long, and there was nothing they could do but remove his penis, so that the necrosis did not spread to the rest of his body.

The manhunt was ongoing. "There is no way he can escape going under the knife," said a doctor. "He must come back to the hospital and accept this." The man's only consolation is a guaranteed Darwin Award, one way or the other!

A reader writes in to say, "NOT TRUE! Some of us naturally 'little guys' have managed to have a kid or two, with a little creativity and medical intervention. Surgically cutting a tendon over the penis gives and extra inch, or more."

The Army's a Blast

(6 May 2004, Ukraine) Piling up live artillery is grueling work, so it makes perfect sense that a group of soldiers would take a cigarette break at lunchtime. The warehouse was filled with 92,000 tons of ammunition -- until the soldiers lit up their ciggies and inhaled deeply, ignoring warnings that smoking can cause cancer. They flicked the butts away and went back to work. The glowing embers of the tobacco butts acted like slow fuses, which started a small fire that nobody noticed until it ignited a chain reaction of massive explosions.

The explosions lasted for a week, tossing debris as far as 25 miles away, destroying buildings in a two-mile radius, and forcing the evacuation of thousands of nearby residents. Red-hot shrapnel set off additional fires in nearby towns and ruptured a minor gas pipeline. Total damage from the smoke break was estimated at $750 million.

Miraculously, only one of the soldiers at the arsenal died in the disaster. Six soldiers were charged with "grossly neglecting the fire safety rules and smoking on the ammunition site."

[Sidebar: News accounts report five people killed by explosions, but only two as smokers. The nomination would be disqualified if innocent bystanders were injured. But an AP article said four died from "health problems aggravated by the stress of the disaster." Novosti said six soldiers were charged with causing the fire, rather than two, and the only direct death was a guard at the facility. It's not clear if the guard was also smoking, or if the other four deaths were caused by the explosions or simply ill health. Therefore, I am tentatively calling this a Darwin Award, despite minor misgivings.]

Reader Comments:

"Smoking is bad for you. Secondary smoke may be worse.

"Ik zei toch dat roken dodelijk is..."

"nicht zur nachahmung empfohlen"

Homemade Wine

(22 April 2004, Georgia) At a Cave Springs "convenience dump" where local residents could drop off waste for later delivery to the main county dump, monitors were paid to ensure that residents deposited only allowed waste. One keen-eyed inspector noticed a bottle in the trash compactor that looked suspiciously like homemade wine. He fished the bottle out of the compactor. At this point you may be thinking this is a "man crushed by compactor" story--but no!

After safely retrieving the bottle, the gentleman in question and another local man proceeded to drink the "wine". Apparently, neither of them took a clue from the fact that the bottle had been thrown away in a dump, leading to the reasonable conclusion that its contents were undrinkable. This particular vintage was antifreeze. Both men were poisoned, and one died.

By coincidence, there is an actual winery called Cave Springs Cellars, located a thousand miles north of Georgia in Niagara, Ontario.

Ironically, if the men had actually been drinking wine along with their antifreeze, both might have lived. Ethanol is sometimes used in hospitals to counteract the deadly effects of antifreeze poisoning. Antifreeze is not toxic until the ethylene glycol is converted to oxalic acid, which crystallizes and damages the kidneys. Since the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase is the first step in forming oxalic acid, the reaction is inhibited by administering a dose of ethanol, which competes for the enzyme."

Flying Dutchman

(8 April 2004, The Netherlands) The Martinitower is the tallest building in the north part of the Netherlands, rising 96 meters above the polders. High winds blast the top, making it a frightening place for some sightseers. Fortunately, a balustrade protects visitors from accidentally being blown off, and built-in seats allow them to rest their weary bodies after the onerous climb to the top. But these safety measures were mere inconveniences to a 20-year-old man who decided to impress his girlfriend with his devil-may-care nonchalance. He climbed up on the balustrade and swung his legs to the outside. Then, aided by a gust of wind, he "slipped away," according to his father, who added, "he just liked to show off a little."

Dope on a Rope

(16 February 2004, Simi Valley, California) Alan, a 43-year-old electrician, was hanging out with his 17-year-old son and the son's girlfriend. They were feeling cooped up, so they hopped the back fence to play by the railroad tracks that ran behind it.

Alan thought it would be a blast to watch a shopping cart being dragged by a train. He tied one end of a 20-foot rope to the shopping cart, and the other end to a full water bottle, as a weight.

When an 86-car Union Pacific freight train rumbled through at 15 mph, Alan stood behind the cart and hurled the bottle at the train. The bottle broke! So he tied another bottle to the rope. Standing in front of the cart, he lobbed the bottle under the train and gleefully noted that his plan worked this time--until the shopping cart whipped into him, and dragged him over a mile along the tracks, reportedly pulling up two spikes in the process.

A spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration said this was "an extremely unusual occurrence." Alan was dead before the engineer could stop the train. His son told reporters, "He was just the funniest guy." After the incident, Simi Valley Police Sgt. Joe May warned pedestrians not to loiter near train tracks.

"Dope on a Rope" is the search-and-rescue nickname for dangling a rescuer under a helicopter on a fixed rope, as opposed to a powered hoist, to assist a victim. -Brent Chapman.

Snake Man

(19 March 2004, Si Sa Ket Province, Thailand) During his snake-handling performance, Boonreung the "Snake Man" was bitten on the right elbow by a deadly mamba. While a lesser mortal might have rushed to a doctor for a dose of antivenim, the daring 34-year-old had his own treatment method: he downed a shot of whiskey and some herbal medicine. But alcohol and herbs are not generally recognized as effective against snake bites. It was on with the show -- until paralysis gradually took hold, and he collapsed.

At this point, he was unable to speak, and thus raised no objections as bystanders took him to Praibung Hospital. But it was too late. The poison had spread throughout his body, and he died the same day. Ironically, Boonreung is immortalized in the Guinness Book of World Records for having spent seven days in a roomful of venomous snakes in 1998.

The mamba's bite was described by Jack, of Jack Seale's Snake and Animal Park near Johannesburg, as "a pure neurotoxin, it gives you a buzz." The victim becomes lightheaded, tingly and warm. "It's a lovely feeling," says Seale. A single bite can deliver 400 milligrams of paralyzing venom; a mere 10 milligrams can be fatal to a human. When Seale was bitten, his treatment consisted of injections of antivenim, cortisone, and adrenalin, which helped him survive long enough to be hooked up to a heart-lung machine. After a week of dialysis and blood transfusions, he could finally wiggle a single finger. ("Black Mamba!" International Wildlife, Nov/Dec 1996.

Tunnel Vision

(19 March 2004, Virginia) Paul, 48, was an electrician for the state Department of Transportation (DOT). He and Charles were part of a 15-person crew assigned to replace the lights in the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel. The crew would ride through the tunnel in a converted dump truck that had a ledge on the back used to hold tools during the procedure. DOT uses a different truck for each side of the tube, because the eastbound tube is three feet higher above the truck than the westbound tube. The taller truck had a tight squeeze returning through the westbound tube. Paul and Charles should have paid more attention to this fact.

The crew had finished working on the eastbound tube. On the return trip to the tunnel office for their lunch break, Paul and Charles chose to ride on the high platform facing backwards, rather than climbing into the cab. This was in violation of safety rules. Paul and Charles learned one major reason for the rules when the truck turned into the westbound tunnel.

Perhaps they had forgotten that this tunnel was three feet lower than the one they had recently left. Perhaps they felt their safety helmets protected them from just about anything. They soon learned otherwise. Paul was knocked off the truck when his head hit the entrance of the tunnel and died of massive head injuries. Charles was lower down, and survived with minor injuries, earning him an Honorable Mention.

RARE DOUBLE AWARD! Darwin Award / Honorable Mention

Lava Lamp

(30 November 2004, Washington) Twenty-four year old Philip was found dead in the bedroom of his trailer home, with burnt remains of a Lava Lamp strewn over his kitchen. Puzzled investigators eventually pieced together a likely scenario for Philip's last moments.

Lava lamps are a mesmerizing distraction. Philip couldn't wait to fire up his new Lava Lamp. He plugged it in and waited for the pretty globs to begin their surreal dance. But after several frustrating minutes, nothing happened. Then a bright idea hit him: "Why not accelerate this painfully slow process?" He took the lamp to the kitchen, placed it on the stove, and turned up the heat.

In short order, the wax melted and began its sinuous dance. But the liquid was designed to be warmed by a 40-watt bulb. It was over-heated. Entranced by the display, Philip forgot that "heat expands". Whereas there was no room for expansion in the glass bottle, the Lava Lamp resorted to a violent explosion to relieve the pressure.*

One thick shard of glass blew straight through Philips's chest and into his heart. Philip stumbled into his bedroom, perhaps uttering "Aeternum vale!" (latin: farewell forever) as he collapsed and died.

Police found no evidence of alcohol or drug use, so it is safely presumed that Philip was in full possession of his senses when he went out with a bang.

* Why the instructions warn NEVER to place the lamp directly on a heat source, such as a stove.

The secret of the Lava Lamp is simple: A light bulb heats a bottle of colored wax and liquid. The wax is denser than the liquid at room temperature, and sits at the bottom. As the wax warms, it expands and rises in an undulating blob. At the top, where the bottle is cooler, the wax becomes cooler and denser and begins to sink.

Reader Comments:

"One should never LOV-A-LAVA too much."

"He "lava" la vida loca!"

"Beware the Lava Lamp."

Daring Feet

(18 July 2004, Washington) Michael, 27, was spending a pleasant afternoon cruising on his motorcycle, and witnesses who saw him speeding down Meridian Avenue were not surprised when state troopers reported that he had lost control near the Kapowsin Highway. You see, he was steering with his feet. Michael was killed instantly after being thrown from his motorcycle, which had veered to the right and hit a guardrail.

Amateur Bomb Inspector

"Curiosity may have killed this cat, but no amount of satisfaction can bring him back."

(25 May 2004, Indonesia) The city of Ambon was on edge. Just two days before, a bomb hidden in a cookie tin, disguised with two bottles of beer and some peanuts, had exploded and wounded five people. So police took extra precautions when a worried man alerted them to a suspicious black plastic bag that had been hung on the handle of his motorbike, while it was parked outside an open market.

The police cleared the area, moved the bag to the middle of the street, and waited for the bomb squad to arrive. Alarmingly, this bag also contained a cookie tin. The police set up a safety cordon 20 meters away from the bag, and warned people to stay back. But after 25 minutes spent waiting for the bomb squad, curiosity got the best of Willem, a 45-year-old fish vendor, and a number of other onlookers. They wanted to get a closer look, see what else was in the bag. What could happen?

What indeed. As they approached the bomb, it exploded, killing Willem and injuring 16 others...

Reader Comments:

"Na, hiern zeigt sich's mal wieder - Neugierde ist ungesund!"

"What I don't understand is: why the detail about the two bottles of beer and the peanuts?"

Closer Look at Victoria Falls

(31 December 2004, Zimbabwe) The 100-year-old Victoria Falls Bridge, linking Zimbabwe and Zambia, offers a spectacular view of the 80-meter chasm. Continuous spray from the massive waterfall makes the rocks and vegetation along the lip as slippery as a slide at a water park, but far less tolerant of error.

While taking pictures at the falls with his girlfriend on New Year's Eve, Michael, 50, dropped his spectacles over the rim. He would hardly be able to enjoy the view without them, so he decided to retrieve them.

He was intelligent enough to be aware of the risk. Headmaster at Summit College in Johannesburg, and a highly regarded lecturer at geography conferences, he knew how to assess the physical world. Edging out on the slick rim, reaching towards his glasses -- he slipped -- and fell 40 meters to his death. His body was recovered by helicopter.

Reader Comments:

Heed this lesson before your trip to the "falls!"