Human beings have been craving adrenaline since the first caveman dared the first lion to “catch me if you can.” That’s not to say that we all crave danger, but it’s so much a part of our DNA that if we don’t chase those thrills ourselves, we enjoy watching other people do it. If we didn’t, YouTube probably wouldn’t exist. But the awful truth about daredevils and their envelope-pushing stunts is that one day, their luck will run out, tragedy will strike, and loved ones will have to pay the price. Here are a few notorious examples of stunts that went horribly wrong.
WING-SUITS ARE DANGEROUS EVEN IF YOU’RE EXPERIENCED
In another tragic base jumping accident, well-known climber Dean Potter and his friend Graham Hunt died in Yosemite National Park when they jumped from Taft Point wearing wing-suits and crashed into a rocky ridgeline that Yosemite’s chief of staff described as “spiny like a stegosaurus.” This accident highlights the sad fact that experience doesn’t necessarily protect you — Potter had made the exact same jump at least 20 times, and Hunt was probably similarly experienced.
Dean Potter was well-known in the extreme sports community and particularly well-known in Yosemite, where climbing is a popular sport. He was the first person to “free climb” (using only hands and feet, although safety ropes can also be used) three-quarters of the way up Half Dome, the granite peak that is roughly 4,800 feet above Yosemite Valley.
Potter was also controversial — he’d been kicked out of Yosemite a couple of times for such crimes as sleeping in the meadow and breaking the stems off a head of broccoli in the park store. More telling, he’d lost a couple of sponsorships because of his increasingly risky stunts, such as climbing the Delicate Arch in the Arches National Park, and base jumping, which was just a little too dangerous for the popular brand Clif Bar to stomach.
Other climbers expressed regret at Potter’s death, but the words of fellow climber Doug Robinson may have summed it up best: “We’re very sad … but not very surprised. He was pushing the envelope all his life.”
KYLE LEE STOCKING WENT SWINGING
You know how television shows about daredevils always have that standard “don’t try this at home” disclaimer? If only YouTube had the same requirement for their daredevil videos. Although seriously, just because some caption says “don’t try this at home” doesn’t mean people aren’t going to try dangerous things at home.
According to ABC News, in March 2013, Kyle Lee Stocking attempted to duplicate a feat he saw on YouTube. If the stunt had gone as planned, the 22-year-old would have swung beneath the 110-foot Corona arch near Moab, Utah, after jumping off the top. But he misjudged the length of the rope he was using, and instead of swinging he struck the ground. The impact killed him.
The tragedy highlighted a growing problem of people trying to imitate stunts they see on YouTube, from swallowing cinnamon (which can give you a collapsed lung) to jumping off moving vehicles.
While YouTube claims to prohibit content that encourages dangerous behavior, the video that inspired the fatal stunt is alive and well as of this writing. And still no “don’t try this at home” warning, either.
LIM BA HAD A HEART ATTACK WHILE COOKING HIMSELF IN A STEAMER
The human capacity for dreaming up bizarre stunts is perhaps only surpassed by the public’s desire to watch people do bizarre stunts, which is a pretty lethal combo when you think about it. In October 2017, Malaysian magician Lim Ba attempted a “human steam” stunt, which basically involved him sitting inside a giant wok with some rice and sweet corn. If the stunt went well, Lim would come out unscathed with some ready-to-eat grains, presumably to pass out to onlookers or something.
Lim was a veteran of this particular stunt — he’d been performing it for more than a decade, and his record was 75 minutes, according to the Independent. But he was also approaching 70, was being treated for high blood pressure, and had recently had a heart bypass. So really, he wasn’t in peak physical condition at the time of his death.
Lim started knocking on the inside of the wok about 30 minutes into the performance. When onlookers removed the cover they found him unconscious, and by the time medical personnel arrived he was dead. The cause of death was a heart attack, though police also noted Lim had second-degree burns.
IT WORKED FROM A PLANE, BUT NOT FROM THIS BRIDGE
In yet another base jumping tragedy, 73-year-old James E. Hickey of Claremont, California, jumped off the Perrine Memorial Bridge (pictured) in Twin Falls, Idaho, and died. First, he set his parachute on fire. According to USA Today, Hickey was attempting to recreate a stunt he’d already successfully performed, only the last time he’d jumped from an airplane instead of from a 500-foot bridge.
If the stunt had gone as planned, Hickey would have set his first parachute on fire, then disconnected it, then deployed a second chute in order to float to safety. But something went wrong, and the second chute opened too late. A video showed a fireball engulfing both chute and jumper. According to the coroner’s report, Hickey died of blunt-force trauma.
Hickey was an experienced base jumper who had completed more than 1,000 jumps over a 10-year period, thus proving once again that experience can’t save you when the base jumping grim reaper finally decides your time is up.
SAILENDRA NATH ROY USED HIS HAIR FOR EVERYTHING
Some people are known for their super-strong arms. Some people are known for their super-strong legs. Sailendra Nath Roy was known for his super-strong hair. According to the BBC, throughout his pseudo-career as a daredevil (he also worked as a driver for the police department) he did a lot of crazy stunts with his hair, including pulling a narrow gauge train with his ponytail, which he claimed to keep strong with mustard oil and incredible feats of hair strength.
Roy held the Guinness record for farthest distance on a zipline using hair, so he wasn’t new to the hairy circuit. But the 48-year-old might not have been in the best physical shape, and when something went wrong during his final performance, his heart was unable to withstand the stress.
Spectators said he stopped moving down the zipline after about 300 feet. He struggled for close to 30 minutes, shouting for help, but there were no emergency personnel on hand and no one could understand what he was saying. At the end of the half hour, he became still. When paramedics finally cut him down he’d already died … of a “massive heart attack.”
Officials said Roy didn’t have permission to do the stunt, and if he’d had a professional support team on hand the outcome might have been different. Instead, the stunt he promised his wife would be his last really did end up being his last, but for all the wrong reasons.
HIKING ALONE CAN BE REWARDING, AND ALSO REALLY DANGEROUS
It’s the social media era, and that doesn’t just mean we all spend way too much time obsessing over the lives of people we haven’t seen in 25 years — it also means it’s really hard to stand out from the crowd because almost nothing hasn’t been done before, and almost everything that has been done before has been posted somewhere on social media for the whole world to see.
Kudos to social media star GiGi Wu, who actually found a gimmick no one else was using: a bikini. She said she dressed appropriately for her hikes but would change her clothes at the top, so that’s less crazy than the alternative, but still pretty wacky. She loved hiking alone and felt anyone should be able to do it, according to the Washington Post. Of course, that comes with safety concerns, and she even turned back from some hikes that she felt were unsafe for soloing.
The self-proclaimed “bikini climber” posted a lot of really impressive images of herself standing in treacherous places wearing clothing that’s really only fit for a very warm (and flat) beach, but then something terrible happened. According to the New York Post, Wu fell 65 feet into a ravine while on a solo hike on Yushan Mountain in Central Taiwan. She was evidently lucid enough to make a phone call after falling, though she said she couldn’t move because of a leg injury. But rescuers weren’t able to reach her until at least a day later, and by then she’d frozen to death.
AUDREY MESTRE SMASHED A RECORD BUT COULDN’T GET BACK TO THE SURFACE
Free diving is the diving version of free climbing — it’s done without equipment (more or less) and it’s about a million times more dangerous than the version that’s done with equipment. According to ABC News, roughly 2 percent of the free diving population dies every year — that’s 100 deaths per 5,000 divers.
In 2002, free diving champion Audrey Mestre was trying to break the “no limits” dive world record of 531.5 feet. Everything went well until she was on her way back up. According to the Miami Herald, her cause of death was equipment failure — in no-limits free diving, an air tank fills a balloon, which helps the diver get quickly back to the surface. Mestre’s air tank didn’t have enough air in it to inflate the balloon.
The International Association of Free Divers gave Mestre a posthumous honor for the practice dive she’d completed a few days earlier — 558 feet, which was just 3 feet short of the dive that killed her. After her death her husband, Francisco “Pipin” Ferreras, swore off free diving, except for a single dive he said would be in her honor. In 2013 he changed his mind and said he’d come back for one more record-breaking attempt and then retire … and then in 2017 he said the same thing. And that’s enough to give you some insight into the minds of extreme sportsmen — even knowing the risks, it’s hard to give up the thing you love.
WING WALKING IS SO, SO DANGEROUS
Extreme sports are always pretty terrifying and sort of insane — otherwise they wouldn’t be called “extreme” — but wing walking has got to be right up there, surpassing “sort of insane” into the territory of “completely and utterly insane.”
In 2011, wing walker Todd Green was performing at Selfridge Air Show in Michigan when he fell 150 feet to his death. According to CBS Detroit, Green was trying to transfer in midair from a plane to the skid of a helicopter when he slipped.
Green’s stunt was one of the biggest attractions of the show, and a lot of spectators initially believed the fall was part of the act — which seems to be a common misconception when daredevils die during performances. It wasn’t until the show’s announcers told the crowd something had gone wrong that they finally learned the truth.
Green was the son of Hall of Fame aerial stunt performer Eddie “The Grip” Green and was following in his dad’s footsteps. He had more than 25 years of experience performing aerial stunts.
SAFETY NETS ARE SUPER IMPORTANT
The human cannonball is one of the world’s most time-honored acts of putting oneself in great mortal peril for the amusement of others. According to Gizmodo, the first human cannonball took to the air in 1872, launching both himself and the careers of a long, distinguished line of people who ultimately died in the line of duty. Broken limbs, broken backs, and broken heads are fairly common injuries for human cannonballs, a fact that didn’t stop Matt Cranch from signing up for a job with Scott May’s Daredevil Stunt Show.
In 2011, Cranch was about to perform as a human cannonball for the first time, in front of a crowd of hundreds of people in Kent, England. He was shot 40 feet into the air, but his safety net collapsed on landing. He hit head first and died from his injuries. An inquest later found that the quick release mechanism on the safety net hadn’t been set properly.
Cranch was a former mechanic who had been on the stunt team for about a month at the time of his death and had practiced the stunt a total of five times. During the court case against the show’s organizer, prosecutors argued that the quick release mechanism wasn’t even necessary for the stunt — a standard net set up prior to the incident would have done the job without risk of failure. The organizer received a £100,000 fine and a one-year “community order” for his part in Cranch’s death.
GREEN SCREENS WERE MADE FOR A REASON
If there’s anything that can be learned from the wing walking accidents of a bygone time (which is evidently like 2011) it’s this: Don’t walk around on the wing of an airplane, unless it’s firmly parked on the asphalt. Even then, it’s probably not an awesome idea because pilots tend to get mad when you walk around on their planes’ wings without permission. But that’s not a lesson that everyone has learned, and so recently there was yet another wing walking accident — this one in Canada, and the daredevil who did not survive the stunt wasn’t even a professional daredevil.
According to CNN, a rapper by the name of Jon James thought a wing walking stunt would make for an awesome music video, but he wasn’t exactly a trained stuntman and while he did train, he may not have had the kind of practice needed to safely perform death-defying stunts. Unfortunately, making a mistake while wing walking isn’t quite like making a mistake while tap dancing — James walked a little too far out on the wing, which caused the pilot to lose control of the aircraft. The rapper tried to hold on as the Cessna went into a spin, but the effort was futile and by the time he let go he was too close to the ground to use his parachute.
The pilot regained control of the plane and landed safely. James was the only one who died.
WATERFALLS ARE FOR LOOKING AT
America has a long and noble history of innovation, creativity, and throwing ourselves over waterfalls for the amusement of others. The very first daredevil who did this was Sam Patch, who incidentally was also America’s first daredevil in general. According to Atlas Obscura, Sam Patch survived the leap into Niagara Falls twice, which is pretty impressive but not daring enough, evidently. Beating his own accomplishments was really the only way he could keep the public’s attention (it’s not like people were exactly lining up to challenge his title as “world’s most insane waterfall man” or anything), so he had to keep upping the ante.
After Niagara become boring and passe, Patch decided to leap from the High Falls on the Genesee River, which was not quite as high up as the 125-foot platform he’d jumped from at Niagara but would at least bring in a new audience. And just to make the spectacle even more tempting, he promised to push a bear into the water first.
Somewhere between 6,000 and 8,000 cash-bearing people showed up to watch and everything went great, but Patch wanted more — specifically, more cash. So he scheduled a second jump, but this time, something happened mid-descent. Spectators said he “drooped,” and then hit the water looking more like a marionette than a living person. And that was Sam Patch’s last jump — his body was found 7 miles downstream four months later. The bear survived.