Over the last year or so, dare devils have been making a lot of headlines. Why have we suddenly become fascinating with death-defying stunts again? I have no idea. All I know is it’s been a long time since a dare devil got a primetime special on one of the major American broadcast networks like Nik Walenda did last June.
Sadly, however, dare devils don’t always make the news for the stunts that succeed. The stunts they perform wouldn’t be exciting if death weren’t one of the possible outcomes, and every once in a while all the risk-taking catching up with them.
Today we’re going to take a look at some of the more notable dare devil deaths from the recent and distant past. The list is not comprehensive, but rather a mere sampling of some of the horrors that have befallen dare devils over the years. And do be warned—a few of the entries that follow have some video that some may consider disturbing.
Just last weekend, spectators at the 39th Vectren Air Show at Dayton International Airport witnessed one of the most shocking air show tragedies in recent memory. Jane Wicker, a 44-year-old wing walker, was killed along with her pilot, 64-year-old Charles Schwenker, when their biplane suddenly veered down and plunged into the ground, creating a fiery explosion.
Man, that's just depressing.
9. Jane Wicker & Charles Schwenker
Tyrone Gilks was planning an attempt to break his own world record for longest 250CC ramp to dirt jump at the Maitland Bike and Hot Rod Show in Australia back in March. Sadly, during a practice run just two days before the show, the 19-year-old dare devil his the apex of the dirt ramp, slipping his bike in two and sending him crashing to the ground. The kid was transported to the hospital, but he would later die from the injuries sustained upon impact.
8. Tyrone Gilks
Sam Patch was America's first famous daredevil. His act—jumping into violent rivers from raised platforms—was pretty boring by today's standards, but apparently it was quite the spectacle back in the 1820s. In any case, just a few months after Patch became famous for jumping into the Niagara river at the base of Niagara Falls in 1829, he died performing a similar stunt on the Genese River near Rochester, New York. Apparently he fell off his platform before he could jump, hit the water at an awkward angle, and was unable to recover. Initially, some speculated that he was hiding out in a cave as part of a publicity stunt and would reappear a few days later. However, that theory was squashed when Sam Patch's frozen corpse was discovered down river.
7. Sam Patch
Kyle Lee Stocking (not pictured) was not a professional dare devil, or even an inspired amateur with a small claim to fame. That is what makes his untimely death especially sad. Back in March, he was just imitating a stunt he saw people doing on YouTube: swinging on a rope through the 110-foot tall Corona Arch near Moab in Utah. Sadly, his rope had too much slack, and he slammed into sandstone base and died. Authorities said it wasn't clear how Stocking and the five friends with him that day could make such a devastating miscalculation, but of course it doesn't really matter. These people really shouldn't have been doing that in the first place.
6. Kyle Lee Stocking
In 2011, spectators at an air show at the Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Michigan were treated to an unexpected and horrifying spectacle—and at first, some of them didn't even know it. Wing walker Todd Green, 48, was attempting a stunt in which he would grab on to a helicopter hovering above his biplane when he slipped and fell 200 feet to his death. However, spectators didn't realize at first what had really happened. Instead, they believed a dummy had been thrown to the earth, and that this was all part of the show. They only realized that this was no trick when medical crewed rushed out to attend to the fallen dare devil.
5. Todd Green
The Guinness Book of World Records can be pretty fun, but also pretty dangerous. It's fun when people do bizarre things just to achieve a bit of fame so long as those bizarre things aren't potentially life-threatening. However, it's dangerous when people do things like, oh, zip-line across a canyon with only their hair attached to the pulley. And no, that is obviously not a hypothetical example.
Back in April, a 49-year-old Indian police officer died while attempting to break his own hair zip-lining record. While crossing the raging River Teesta in West Bengal, he got stuck halfway across, and after struggling to get moving again for 20 minutes, he suddenly went motionless.
What happened? Apparently the situation became so stressful that the poor man had a fatal heart attack while dangling over the gorge.
4. Sailendra Nath Roy
Clem Sohn was the greatest air show dare devil of the 1930s. The guy would have a plane take him up to 20,000 feet, then he would jump out and use his homemade wing suit to glide down to about 1,000 feet, where he would then deploy his parachute for the final landing. It was quite a popular stunt, and one that earned him the nickname "batman" several years before the Batman appeared in DC comic books.
Sadly, on April 25, 1937, Sohn made his last jump. While making his descent in front of a crowd of 100,000 people in Vincennes, France, both his main parachute and his backup failed, and the 26-year-old fell to his death.
3. Clem Sohn
Back in October, when Felix Baumgartner was making headlines for his (successful) attempt at breaking the world free-fall record, we here at TotalProSports took time to tell you about the previous holder of that record—Colonel Joseph Kittinger. One guy we did not tell you about, however, was Nick Piantanida. In 1966, he too tried to break the record set by Kittinger in 1960. Unfortunately, Piantanida was just a truck driver from New Jersey with no training whatsoever, and on his third attempt at breaking Kittinger's record in May of 1966, his pressurized suit failed. Controllers on the ground immediately aborted the mission, but the lack of oxygen at 56,000 feet caused so much tissue damage that he went into a coma and died four months later.
2. Nick Piantanida (Sky Diver)
Karl Wallenda, founder of "The Flying Wallendas" and great-grandfather of the now-famous Nik Wallenda, was a very dedicated tight rope walker who refused to let old age keep him off the high wire. Unfortunately, old age probably should have kept him off the high wire. In 1978, at the age of 73, the world record holder for longest skywalk (1,800 feet) attempted a rather modest 121-foot walk between two high-rise hotels in San Juan Puerto Rico. Sadly, high winds and an unstable wire caused him to fall to his death.