The Darwin Awards

2009 At-Risk Survivor

Next Prev Random At-Risk Survivors have misadventures that stop short of the ultimate sacrifice. Nevertheless we salute the spirit of their colossal blunders with an Honorable Mention. Better luck next time!

Cats Land On All Fours
2009 At-Risk Survivor
Unconfirmed by Darwin

(8 May 2008, California) 24-year-old Mike, an operator for a gravel company, did not intend to perform a death-defying stunt with a 40-ton construction machine. He was only trying to free a bulldozer stuck atop a 50-foot high pile of dirt that it had been pushing. Despite several better options, Mike decided to pull the stuck machine backwards with an old front-end Caterpillar loader.

Driving up a dirt ramp at a 40-degree angle is nerve-racking enough without doing so knowing that your vehicle's brakes are inoperable and in need of repair. The operator in question knew that when he decided to use the machine to free the 'dozer, something he should not have been doing with any loader under any circumstance. To compound the risk, Mike decided to improve traction by loading the Caterpillar's bucket with dirt to give it more weight.

At the top of the hill, Mike did as he was trained: he took his foot off the throttle and hit the button to engage the parking brake-forgetting that, on CAT loaders, setting the parking brake automatically puts the transmission in neutral. He unfastened his seatbelt and began to exit the loader, which was imperceptibly rolling backwards.

When Mike noticed, he jumped back into the cab and hit the brake pedal, but... nothing happened. The loader continued downhill.

Beyond the edge of the property was a steep drop down to the next property. A five-foot dirt berm protected the edge so trucks would not accidentally drive off the cliff. At 25 mph, this berm did little to slow 40 tons of rolling steel and dirt, but it did give the loader a good launching height. In a stunt that would make Evel Knievel sweat, the machine careened up the berm and launched into the air, clearing the cliff and landing on the adjacent property 35 feet below and 50 feet away.

Mike was thrown through the rear windshield and onto the engine compartment. Miraculously, the loader landed on all four tires, and Mike was able to walk away with just a few cuts and bruises. Looking back at the incident, Mike laughs and says he proved that a CAT always lands on all fours.

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