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2000 Personal Accounts
Email a Friend The Darwin Awards salutes the spirit portrayed in the following personal accounts, submitted by loyal (and sometimes reluctant) readers. Next
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Final Flick of Bic  
2000 Personal Account

A friend of mine was a missionary in Indonesia in the late 1970's. Although he was there mainly to preach, he was also employed by the local oil refinery. Indonesia, like many former colonies, had nationalized their petroleum industry with the intention of keeping the profits closer to home. Unfortunately, because the previous supervisors were from the United States, most of the equipment was labeled in English. Since few of the locals had a good grasp of the language, my friend was hired to tutor the new workers.

One day, he noticed a great deal of commotion at the refinery gate. He became concerned when only a handful of people showed up for his class. He asked his obviously shaken students if anything untoward had happened. They explained that they had just come from a mandatory safety demonstration. They were so upset that all he could make out was something about a broken tank and the Safety Inspector giving a "big showing".

Maybe it was their English, or lack thereof, but "big showing" was putting it mildly.

After lecturing for an hour, the Safety Inspector had taken 20 workers out into an open field to demonstrate what NOT to do around an oxygen cylinder. He admonished his students to stand way back, and he would show them how something they couldn't see or smell could hurt them.

You've probably guessed by now. The instructor took a Bic lighter from his pocket, opened the petcock on the tank. In a final dramatic gesture, he flicked his Bic...

It was a most effective demonstration, since the largest piece of the Safety Engineer found afterwards was about the size of a postage stamp.

On the way back to the Mission, my friend had to stop for a few moments after almost falling off his scooter while remembering his students' earnest explanation of the unfortunate event. "The tank was boom and Inspector was not so good after that!"

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Submitted by: Elaine M. Hinchey-Reed


Rick Reid critiques this story:
"This states that an oxygen tank blew up when an open flame was used near the valve. Oxygen does NOT burn. It promotes rapid oxidation cannot itself burn. Holding a lit Bic to the open valve would make a slightly larger flame at best. It is more likely the oxygen would simply blow out the flame. Oxygen is stored in the tank in liquid form at 2200 psi (pounds per square inch) and when you crack the valve open, the stream of gas coming out is traveling at close to the speed of sound."

Greg Raven concurs:
"A flame in an oxygen-rich environment would burn hotter, but oxygen is not itself flammable and would not explode. However It is possible that the tank contained another gas."

Matt thinks the story may be true:
"In a flame, O2 itself does not explode. However in a pure O2 environment, some lighters will definitely explode on a small scale. If such an explosion occurred with sufficient power to damage the compressed-gas cylinder, it might shoot off like a rocket, or discharge its contents from the destroyed valve in a matter of seconds, at dangerous speeds."

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