'Human cannonball' death probed

Investigations were continuing today after a "human cannonball" stuntman plunged to his death at a daredevil show.

The 23-year-old, named locally as Matt Cranch, died after a safety net failed during the Scott May's Daredevil Stunt Show at the Kent County Showground in Detling yesterday afternoon.

He was taken to Maidstone General Hospital by ambulance but died shortly afterwards.

Officers from Kent Police are investigating the incident alongside health and safety officials from Maidstone Borough Council, while the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has also been consulted.

Witnesses estimated that Mr Cranch was launched 30 to 40ft into the air by the cannon before falling head-first to his death as the safety net lay flat on the ground.

Rob Hutchinson, 42, watched with his wife and two young children as the human cannonball came out to perform his stunt to close the first half of the show.

Mr Hutchinson, from Tenterden, Kent, said: "The net was already up. He climbed out on top, climbed down into the tube, they gave this countdown then he came out of the tube - he was probably 30 or 40ft in the air at least.

"He turned over and then, the last picture I've got of him, you can see the net is flat on the floor, not up in the air, and he is coming down head-first towards the ground. I saw him hit the floor and bounce."

Mr Hutchinson said it was not immediately apparent what had happened. He said: "It was like a dummy being thrown - almost like they were playing a practical joke.

"Then you thought, 'No, that would be a bit of a sick joke to play on people, because there's kids there'. Then it was just like, 'Oh my God', and it was deathly silent. I don't recall anybody shouting at all.

"That's when the announcer said, there's been a bit of an accident, can we have the St John Ambulance come across.

"My wife said to me the net completely collapsed the minute the cannon went off.

"I feel empty. It's not a nice thing."

Mr Hutchinson estimated that the crowd had numbered around 2,000 people including several hundred children.

Another witness, Peter Tupper, 35, from Maidstone, said many people in the crowd thought the fall was part of the show - and some demanded their money back as the emergency services arrived.

Mr Tupper, who was at the show with his partner Emma and his five children, aged between five and 15, said the stuntman "gave a wave" as he climbed inside the cannon, and "it just all happened at once" after the countdown.

"As soon as he was fired out, the net was coming down. The lorry jerked. The net was attached to the front of the lorry.

"Then he just lay there and the commentator said, 'This is an accident, this is not meant to have happened', and called the St John Ambulance people out."