Human cannonball killed in Kent after safety net 'fails to engage'

A man performing as a human cannonball at a stunt show in Kent has died after a safety net failed to engage.

The man, who was not formally identified but was said by police to be in his twenties, was taking part in Scott May's Daredevil Stunt Show yesterday afternoon at the Kent County Showground in Detling. He was taken to Maidstone Hospital by air ambulance but was later declared dead.

The stunt involved the performer clambering up a ladder and sliding into a giant barrel mounted on the back of a 7.5-ton truck. On being fired into the air the performer then usually turns while in flight and lands on a safety net held in position by poles which are designed to crash to the ground shortly afterwards.

The show, which claims on its website to be Europe's largest independent touring stunt show, has been on the road for 20 years and previously claimed a flawless safety record. Its summer programme began last month but last night the website announced: "Due to unforeseen circumstances the shows are cancelled until further notice."

As well as the human cannonball spectacle, the show also features pyrotechnics, several monster trucks and airborne jumps on motorcycles, quad bikes and buggies.

It was established in 1991 by Scott May, a former schoolboy motocross champion who was inspired to set up the show by the antics of Evel Knievel and Eddie Kidd.

Human cannonballs have been wowing fairground crowds since 1877, when the stunt was performed at Westminster Aquarium in London by a 14-year-old girl with the stage name of Zazel. She later joined the celebrated Barnum & Bailey Circus.

In reality, they do not use gunpowder or explosives. Zazel's original feat was achieved using a high-tension spring, while these days performers are expelled from the barrel using compressed air. They slip into an inner cylinder inside the barrel which at the desired moment suddenly slides upwards at high speed, stopping at the mouth of the barrel and relying on sheer momentum to carry the person out and into the air. The illusion of an explosion is created externally using smoke machines and firecrackers.

Being launched out of a giant metal cylinder sound dangerous even without the use of any gunpowder, but as in the tragic case yesterday it is the landing that has long proved to be the riskiest part of the operation, and down the years more than 30 deaths have resulted from people overshooting the net.

The famed Zacchini brothers, who began performing in 1922, were the victims of another kind of accident when they collided in mid-air after being launched from opposite ends of a circus ring, causing one of them to break his back.

The record distance travelled by a human cannonball was set in Milan last month by David Smith Jr, who bettered the previous best of 56 metres achieved in 1998 by his father, David Smith Sr, by two metres. The elder of the two daredevils has been launched over many things in his career, including the border between the USA and Mexico.

In 1974, a human cannonball attempted to clear the river Avon in Bristol, but two launches in the space of four days both resulted in 21-year-old Mary Connors falling short and landing in the water. She was fortunate not to suffer any serious injuries, having previously said that she had merely had a few swimming lessons rather than taking out life insurance.

In 1987, another human cannonball with the Barnum & Bailey Circus, Elvin Bale, was paralysed from the waist down.

Suggested Topics
News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

Voices
Left: An illustration of the original Jim Crowe, played by TD Rice Right: A Couple dressed as Ray and Janay Rice
voices

By performing as African Americans or Indians, white people get to play act a kind of 'imaginary liberation', writes Michael Mark Cohen

Arts and Entertainment
music
Life and Style
fashion
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

Travel
travel
News
people
Voices
Jules and Delaney
voices
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

English Teacher- Manchester

£19200 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Are you a ...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes