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Darwin Awards
1994 Darwin Awards
Email a Friend Named in honor of Charles Darwin, the father of evolution, Darwin Awards commemorate those who improve our gene pool by removing themselves from it. Next
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Physics Lesson  
1984 Darwin Award Nominee
Unconfirmed by Darwin

Olympic Freefall Offers Exciting Physics Lesson

(5 July 1984, Chicago) Near the top of one of the Windy City's mighty skyscrapers, a twenty-nine-year-old attorney named Reginald was locked in a heated dispute with one of his colleagues. "They were arguing about the Olympics," remarked the firm's controller. Determined to settle the aspect under discussion, the two friends decided to have a race down a long hallway on the thirty-ninth floor of the building.

On the way down the hall, Reginald, who was not wearing his contacts due to a scratched cornea, lost his perspective and crashed through a plate-glass window. He fell thirty-eight* stories before striking the pavement, at which point his velocity was zero. A moment before he terminated his 6-second freefall, however, his velocity was approximately 94 miles per hour in a vertical direction. The abrupt velocity change proved too much for Reginald to withstand, and he promptly died.

This fatality marks the first recorded manifestation of so-called "Olympic Fever," previously believed to be a mythical creation of the National Broadcasting Company.

*Beginning as he did at the bottom of the thirty-ninth floor, he technically fell only thirty-eight stories, or thirty-seven if the 13th floor was absent, as is sometimes the case.

DarwinAwards.com © 1994 - 2012
Submitted by: Troy Plattner, Tonia, Matthew Marsee
Reference: Associated Press

Pat Hunnell says, "I remember this story clearly, as I attended the fireworks celebration at the lakefront that night. Here is some information from the engineers who replaced all the windows in the Prudential Building in Chicago 1997-98. The building was constructed in the 50s and they installed a new and remarkable window system designed to eliminate the need for outdoor window washers. Each window was framed by rubber tubing and mounted in the frames with metal pins top and bottom center, a sort of bisected bicycle tube on a pivot. To clean the outside of the window, one simply deflated this tube and swiveled the entire window around to clean the pane. The tube was then reinflated to hold it in place. This system worked well for many years, withstanding the traditional gusty wind this lakefront location experiences. Unfortunately, rubber is organic and eventually deteoriates. Many of the windows became loose as a result. So what may have happened was that the window simple gave way and swiveled when the man hit it, ejecting him from the building like a revolving door. This information was kept quiet -- after all, the building was owned by an insurance company."

Will Gooch says, "I remember when this happened, so I went to Chicago Tribune microfilm at the library and printed the story. Here are some additional details: Window was floor-to-ceiling, and the 39th floor was the only one in the building with floor-to-ceiling windows. Hallway had marble floor. He was not wearing his glasses (no mention of contacts). He had taken off his shoes and was running in his stocking feet! This happened July 3 around 11 PM when people were still leaving the annual fireworks display in Grant Park across from the Prudential Building, where this happened. The story doesn't mention an argument about the Olympics. He was attending a party thrown by the law firm to celebrate the firm's expansion and to watch the fireworks; there was alcohol but story claims he didn't drink any. After most of the party-goers had left he "...and another attorney engaged in horseplay and raced down a corridor with a marble floor." -1 November 2000

Velocity Chart & Discussion
Courtesy of Phil Mayfield

"The constant acceleration of gravity (32feet/sec/sec) increases the lawyer's speed during each second of free fall. But air friction also increases with speed. After twelve seconds, a falling lawyer's acceleration will slow to zero, i.e. constant rate of speed. This is called "terminal velocity."
Seconds
of Freefall
Incremental
Distance
Speed
(MPH)
Cumulative
Distance

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12

16
46
76
104
124
138
148
156
163
167
171
174

10.90
31.36
51.81
70.90
84.55
94.09
100.91
106.36
111.14
113.86
116.59
118.64
16
62
138
242
366
504
652
808
971
1138
1309
1483

Roy says, "I was astounded to read this story. The person in the article is named Reginald and he graduated from my high school, Detroit Catholic Central. I applied for a scholarship sponsored by his family and was told by a teacher that the scholarship was in his memory. The teacher said he was racing one of the lawyers in his practice on the 38th floor due to an argument about the Olympics, couldn't stop, and ran right through the window. A pretty sad death. Just thought I'd confirm this story as true."

Deni Schwiebert warns, "This story is unlikely. The man crashed through a plate glass window? No. I am an Architectural Designer and I know for a fact that windows in public buildings must be tempered glass, which would require a gunshot to pierce the window pane. I have seen a technician wallop a pane with a hammer, and it did not break."

Darwin points out, "Maybe the frame around the window broke."

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