The Darwin Awards

The Darwin Awards are an annual honor given to people who do the gene pool the biggest service by killing themselves in the most extraordinarily stupid ways. Last year's winner was the fellow who was killed by a Coke machine -- it toppled over on top of him as he was attempting to tip a free soda out of it.

Here's the story of this year's nominee:

One day, the Arizona Highway Patrol came upon a pile of smoldering metal embedded in the side of a cliff which rose 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 had happened.

It seems that a guy had somehow gotten hold of a Jet Assisted Take Off (JATO) unit -- 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. Then he attached the JATO unit to his car, jumped in, got up some speed -- and fired off the JATO. The reconstructed facts are as follows.

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 deeply 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 speeds well in excess of 350 mph and continuing at full power for an additional 20-25 seconds. The driver, soon to be pilot, 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. The car then became airborne for an additional 1.4 miles and hit 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.