Death from above: killed by falling coconuts, meteorites, hail and frozen airplane shit

Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, is booming. Glassy office buildings are springing skywards, chic new hotels are popping up along the waterfront and snazzy malls and stadiums are on the rise.

Ann Hodges, a 31 year old Alabama woman, is one of only four people known to have been struck by a meteorite. The city of Abu Dhabi recently initiated a program to stem the rising tide of falling object deaths.

It is the richest city on earth, according to a 2007 CNN article. But along with rocketing growth, comes tragic falls. Falling objects that end up killing people, that is.

In 2011, more than 50 people were killed while working at heights in Abu Dhabi. These deaths, which include falling from heights but also being struck by falling objects, are the single greatest cause of workplace fatalities in the city. Earlier this week, the Health Authority Abu Dhabi instituted a program to try and stop the troubling trend, which isn’t confined to just the construction industry. The risk is present in other sectors, explained the city’s director of public health and policy, “such as agriculture, oil and gas, window cleaning and even at homes and offices.”

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And the list goes on. The number of different types of falling objects that can kill you is basically endless, and definitely absurd. For example, hunks of ice. According to the US National Weather Service, 718 people were injured by hail between 1995 and 2007, five were actually killed. The website bookofodds.com states that the odds a person will be killed by hail in any given year is 1 in 734 million. But every now and then those odds line up, and something calamitous happens. A 1986 hailstorm in Bangladesh killed 92 people and contained hailstones that weighed more than 2 pounds. Though that’s nothing compared to an ancient hailstorm that occurred in the Gahrwal region of the Himalayas, near the border of India and Tibet. At first researchers thought the 200 bodies found near a glacial lake died in battle or were killed by some mysterious illness. But scientists commissioned by National Geographic‘s television channel discovered that these people, who dated from the 9th century, were killed by giant hailstones. “We retrieved a number of skulls which showed short, deep cracks,” noted a physical anthropologist from India’s Deccan College, in a November 2004 Telegraph article. “These were caused not by a landslide or an avalanche but by blunt, round objects about the size of cricket balls.”

One of the more interesting to talk about types of lethal falling objects are meteorites, although only four people in recent history have verifiably been hit by one, and none actually killed. The most famous case involved a 31 year old Alabama woman named Ann Hodges. In 1954, she was struck in the side by a grapefruit sized meteorite that crashed through her roof as she was napping on the couch. Hodges suffered a tremendous bruise and received worldwide publicity, but other than that was fine—the meteorite was slowed by the roof as well as a wood-consoled radio it bounced off before hitting Hodges. Then there’s the little known about 1927 case of a meteorite that hit a Japanese girl in the head. And the Ugandan boy who in 1992 was indirectly struck in the head by a meteorite the size of a marble—it ricocheted off a series of palm tree branches first. Just two years ago, a pea-sized meteorite hurtled into the hand of a German teenager named Gerrit Blank. But it is now widely believed that Blank’s case is either a hoax, or greatly embellished. The weirdest case occurred in 1911, an Egyptian dog was reportedly killed by a meteorite that was said to have come from Mars.

And what about coconuts? Some websites claim they kill around 150 people worldwide each year, but this figure is much disputed. There is lots of chatter on the topic but little hard evidence. For example, it is commonly said that being killed by a falling coconut is more statistically likely than being killed by a shark. Yet this statement is also contested. One valid report appeared in the ANZ Journal of Surgery, the leading surgical journal for Australia, New Zealand and Oceania. It reported that over a five year period in the Solomon Islands, nineteen people were admitted to the local hospital with falling-coconut-related injuries. “Sixteen patients had a coconut fruit fall on them,” notes the study, “three patients had a whole tree fall on them.”

What’s the weirdest potentially lethal falling object of all? The answer is surely blue ice, frozen hunks of water and shit that occasionally leak out of an airplane’s lavatory while in flight. “There are several known cases of houses being struck by frozen airplane-lavatory waste,” reads an entry on bookofodds.com. “Luckily, there are no known instances of people being struck.”

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