Leonid 2001 meteorFEA

Did A Meteorite Kill A Bus Driver In India?


Meteorite or …?

On Saturday, Feb. 6th, a meteorite reportedly struck a bus driver on the campus of the Bharathidasan Engineering College in southern India. Three students were also injured and several windows were shattered in some kind of explosion. Online videos and stills show a small crater left by the impact. If true, this would be the first time a person was struck and killed by a meteorite.


Another report out of India

Call me skeptical. If the meteorite weighs 50 grams as reported — just under two ounces — it’s far too small to cause an explosion or significant impact crater. There were also no reports of rumbles or sonic booms, sounds associated with material substantial enough to penetrate the atmosphere and plunge to the ground. Shattered windows would indicate an explosion similar to the one over Chelyabinsk, Russian in February 2013. The blast wave created when the meteorite fractured into thousands of pieces miles overhead broke thousands of windows; flying glass caused numerous injuries.

Since no one reported a blast across the city prior to the purported fall, it’s doubtful a meteorite is involved. According to a story that ran in The News Minute, a team led by the Indian Space Research Organization (IRSO), the object was 2 cm (3/4 inch) in width, weighed 50 grams and looked like a meteorite with “air bubbles on its rigid surface”. Hmmm. You’ll also hear a lot of chatter about meteor showers being the cause of falling meteorites. Not a single meteorite ever found has been linked to a shower. Dust and tiny bits of comets produce most shower meteors, which vaporize to fine soot in the atmosphere.

There have been close calls in the past, most notably in Sylacauga, Alabama  On November 30, 1954 at 2:46 p.m. an 8.5 lb rock crashed through the roof of a home not far from that town.

Dr. Moody James shows where Ann Hodges was struck in the hip by an 8.5 lb meteorite that crashed through her roof (right). The photos appeared in the Dec. 13, 1954 issue of Life magazine. Photo by Jay Leviton, Time & Life Pictures, Getty Images
Dr. Moody James shows where Ann Hodges was struck in the hip by an 8.5 lb meteorite that crashed through her roof (right). The photos appeared in the Dec. 13, 1954 issue of Life magazine. Photo by Jay Leviton, Time & Life Pictures, Getty Images

It hit a radio console, bounced off the floor and struck the hand and hip of 31-year-old Ann Hodges who was asleep on the couch at the time. She awoke in surprise and pain thinking that a space heater had blown up. But when she noticed the hole in the roof and a rock on the floor, Hodges figured the neighborhood kids had been up to no good.

Fortunately her injuries weren’t serious. Ann became a sudden celebrity; her photo even appeared on the cover of Life magazine with a story titled “A Big Bruiser From The Sky”. In 1956 she donated the meteorite to the Alabama Museum of Natural History in Tuscaloosa, where you can still see it to this day. A second meteorite from the fall weighing 3.7 lbs. was picked up the following day by Julius K. McKinney in the middle of a dirt road. McKinney sold his fragment to the Smithsonian and used the money to purchase a small farm and used car.

Claims of people getting hit by meteorites have been on the increase in the past few years with the growth of the social media and the Web. Some stories have been deliberately made up and none have been verified. Will this one be another? I suspect so but will keep my ear to the rail for followup news and report back when I learn more. In the meantime, I hope officials get to the bottom of the tragic death.

UPDATE: Another explanation has turned up to explain the death. Police at the college say that two of the school’s gardeners were burning materials from the garden when the fire inadvertently set off sticks of dynamite that had been abandoned “amid the rocks” when the college was first built. The driver, Kamaraj and another driver, Sultan, were drinking water nearby when they were hit with the shrapnel. Kamaraj began bleeding and was rushed to a hospital but died on the way. More HERE. I still feel something’s missing from this story …

3 Responses

  1. I remember seeing the “bruise” picture in a space book from Life magazine in the late 60’s and thinking how cool it’d be to show my fresh “death from space” scar at school the next day to impress the girls 😀

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