(1 May 1999) Even I find this story hard to believe, but
here's what I overheard at a large family dinner:
My Uncle qualified for a Darwin Award. During his life, he studied Astral
Projection, Remote Viewing, and Psychokinesis. During his time here on
Earth, he spent his entire life savings--twice! Once he built a large metal
sphere, claiming he could use it to talk to aliens, and buried it in his
backyard. It is, however, the second time he used up all of his money that
I want to tell you about..
My dear Uncle suffered from back pain. Being the creative inventor that he
was, he devised a scheme to relieve his suffering. He used his second
fortune to construct a gigantic balloon, 8 feet in circumference. He
purchased many, many tanks of helium and oxygen. Then, using a garden hose,
he connected the oxygen to an old gas mask, and he climbed inside the
balloon. He turned on the helium to fill the balloon while he breathed into
his gas mask.
He did not go flying into space. As the balloon filled, it rose from the
ground and was trapped under the roof of his porch, as he had planned.
His back no longer aching because of his levitation, my Uncle soon fell
asleep. Unknown to him, as the balloon filled up, the oxygen hose got
pinched off, leaving him breathing only helium in his sleep.
Eight hours later, his wife came home to find him tethered under the porch
in a giant balloon, dead, smelling like he'd cooked all day in the sun.
DarwinAwards.com © 1994 - 2012
Submitted by: Collin
Jeff Kaskey, who enjoys
"debunking when appropriate," says, ""The looniest story,
entitled 'Fun with Helium,' involves someone who killed himself
inventively within a helium balloon. The balloon is described as being 8
feet in circumference. Let us assume generously an 8-foot cube containing
512 cubic feet of helium. Helium at STP ("Standard Temperature and
Pressure", about 22C and 1 ATM) has 1.1 ounces of lift per cubic
foot. Air weighs 1.3oz/cu-ft, helium 0.2oz/cu-ft.This gives it a total lift
of 35 pounds. He must have been on a diet."
And a rebuttal by Darrell Johnson on
29 March 2000: "People who don't work much with math often confuse
circumference, radius, and diameter. "Circumference" was clearly a
mistake, as it would have a diameter of merely 2.5 feet, and he wouldn't
fit inside. If the balloon was 8 feet in radius, it would have a a
lift of roughly 150 pounds. If this Uncle was a scrawny man with a light
oxygen bottle, it might well have worked. At any rate, why assume that the
submitter knew the exact numbers? Furthermore, perhaps the balloon was too
big to fit under the porch ceiling, and touched both top and bottom, making
it impossible for the people who discovered him to determine whether the
balloon floated or not. Obviously, we can't assume that this poor fellow
had it all figured out properly; after all, he hoped to float into orbit,
and failed to account for the porch roof when he inflated the
thing. Witnesses give poor evidence; they usually fill in gaps with guesses
and rationalizations. You have to expect inconsistencies, especially ones
that the typical person wouldn't notice. Merely pointing them out does not
invalidate the general truth of the story.
Mr. Bunnell adds a
medical insight, "I don't think he died from falling asleep. Unless he
worked in a hospital he most likely did not realize that his lungs would
not be capable of using the dry oxygen from the tank. Compressed oxygen is
completely moisture-free. Our lungs require a minimal amount of humidity
to keep the membranes moist and let gases pass through. As soon as he
started breathing pure oxygen, his lungs would have dried up, and he would
feel as though he were suffocating. My guess is that he assumed the mask
was leaking and he was choking on helium, so in a panic he tried to seal
the mask against his face. He then must have passed out before he could
realize that the oxygen wasn't helping. If he had been able to get to a
moisture-rich environment right away, there is a chance he could have
Joey "Revoltionaire" says, "Mr Bunnell suggests that the drying
effect of pure oxygen would have been enough to kill in under eight hours.
This is untrue. As a nurse and a field medic I've seen people go almost a
week on 100% O2, non-rebreathing at 15L/min and live to tell the tale,
albeit sounding painfully raspy and with a mouth that looked like a dried
river bed. Oxygen will pick up trace moisture from anywhere. Had he peed
or sweated in the balloon, the moisture from that would have found its way
onto any circulating oxygen quickly. I believe it was a lack of oxygen
that killed him. Breathing pure helium would have killed him through
suffocation leading to hypoxia. The pinched O2 tube killed him, that and
being a complete plank."