Darwin Award Winner – 1996

Darwin Award – it’s an annual honor given to the person who did the gene pool the biggest service by killing himself in the most extraordinarily stupid way.

The Arizona Highway Patrol came upon a pile of smoldering metal imbedded in the side of a cliff rising above 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 had happened.

It seems that a guy had some JATO bottles ( Jet Assisted Take Off ), actually a solid fuel rocket used to give heavy military transport planes extra “push” for taking off from short airfields. He had driven his Chevy Impala into the desert and found a long straight stretch of road. He attached the JATO unit to his car, jumped in, built up some speed, and fired off the JATO!

JATO bottle
JATO bottle

The facts as best could be defined are that:

  • The operator of the 1967 Impala hit the JATO ignition at a distance of approximately 3.0 miles from the crash site. This was determined by the scorched and melted asphalt at that location.
  • The JATO would have reached maximum thrust within 5 seconds, causing the chevy to reach speeds of 350 MPH ( 560 KMPH ). JATO thrust would have continued for 20-25 seconds, insuring maintenance of that speed for that time.
  • The driver, soon pilot, would have experienced G-forces usually reserved for dig-fighting F-14 jocks under full afterburners, causing him to become insignificant for the remainder of the vent. The automobile remained on the straight highway for about 2.5 miles ( 15-20 seconds ) before the driver applied and completely melted brakes, blowing tires and leaving thick rubber marks on the road surface, to no avail, then becoming airborne for an additional 1.4 miles before impacting the cliff face at a height of 125 feet, leaving a blackened crater 3 feet deep in the rock face.
  • Few of the drivers remains were recovered. Small fragments of bone, teeth, and hair were extracted from the crater, and a fingernail and bone shards were removed from a piece of debris believed to be a portion of the steering wheel.