Unusual Deaths #3: The Flying Lawnmower
At the end of the 1970s, a burst of technology, propelled by advances in computer circuitry, made the future the 50s had promised more than a waning pipe dream. Crude electronic interfaces appeared on the faces of washing machines and remote controllers. Computers, while still a nerd’s plaything, became more practical and started to show up at offices around the country. Sideshows showcasing modern spectacles became popular distractions.
The Radio Control Association of Greater New York, a group of electronic enthusiasts, raised their public profile and generated some extra income by capitalizing on the sudden popularity of their longtime hobby. “The Electronic Eagles” were their calling card: members built remote control aircrafts, hosting airshows at public events. They’d execute stunts like flips and dives that kept the crowds alive and involved. The novelty of their unique designs (often shaped as every-day appliances or geometric shapes), also bred a degree of comfort that allowed people to relax and simply enjoy the show.
On December 9th, 1979, “The Electronic Eagles” seemed like the perfect midgame entertainment for a football game at Shea Stadium between the Patriots and the Jets. These nifty aircrafts presented an opportunity to showcase American innovation and also fit perfectly with the aerial minded New York team. On this day, however, the RCA’s impeccable safety record would receive its first black mark.
A lawnmower-shaped craft had some difficulty taking off, but technicians managed to get it in the air. It flew through the uprights and looped over the stadium crowd. It did one pass, then another. Everything seemed fine. By the third pass, however, its pilot had lost control. Only its engine and the miracle of modern engineering kept it in the sky, and neither held together for long.
The aircraft was built from a popular design and, despite its unusual shape, functions like any other remote-controlled helicopter. The main difference is that rotary blades are located underneath the craft, rather than on top. A few enthusiasts say it is easier to control than traditional crafts, though it’s mostly an aesthetic preference, except in the case of free-fall.
The mower stalled soon after its third loop, and went almost straight down, hitting two men seated a few rows behind the Patriot’s bench. The lucky one suffered a severe concussion. The rotary blades on the lawnmower’s belly struck his neighbor, John Bowen. A spectator said that Bowen looked like “… he had been attacked with an axe.” He died in a hospital four days later.
By Matt Alberswerth