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Wednesday, April 1, 1998 Published at 10:04 GMT 11:04 UK


An honour to die for
image: [ The irreverent Darwin Awards go to individuals who remove themselves from the gene pool in the most spectacular fashion ]
The irreverent Darwin Awards go to individuals who remove themselves from the gene pool in the most spectacular fashion

It is possible to receive a Darwin Award during your lifetime. But, in the event of that happening, you would probably want to die of embarrassment.

First invented by two American students, the awards are "given, usually posthumously, to individuals who remove themselves from the gene pool in the most spectacular fashion".

Put simply, it is a slightly macabre tribute to the most stupid ways in which people have managed to die during the past year.

However, exceptions to his rule can be made for people whose acts of idiocy leave them alive but incapable of passing on their genes.

Many Darwin Awards Websites have sprung up since the idea was first published. The winner is traditionally announced on April Fool's Day.

On Wednesday, The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported that the winner of this year's award was Prakesh Tiwari, who was killed by a tiger he was attempting to befriend by placing a flower garland around its neck.

A runner-up was David Zaback who attempted to hold up a gun shop where a meeting of firearm enthusiasts was in full progress. He was shot seven times and died in hospital, the paper said.

The contest attracts spinners of urban legends and tall tales. Two of this year's nominations listed on the Official Darwin Awards site are deemed to be true simply because they were reported by newspapers or news agencies. The other two - both submitted by the same person - are regarded as suspect because they lack corroboration.

The first is a fishy tale of bravado by a 23-year-old man who could not turn down a dare. He tried to swallow a five-inch long live fish at his friends' behest and choked to death.

The police in Akron, Ohio, appeared to have little sympathy for the man when they arrived on the scene. One officer told the Associated Press reporter: "If I dare you to jump off a bridge and you do it, and you're 23 years of age, you're stupid."

The other confirmed contender is an 18-year-old car window cleaner who tried to get out of the way of a five-tonne truck by ducking under it.

The two unsubstantiated tales come from a former soldier stationed in Germany from 1983 to 1986 and who claims to have been in charge of messages related to staff in Europe.

In one instance he writes: "A soldier bought a hammock and took it back to his room in the barracks. At that time, most barracks rooms were occupied by at least two soldiers. He got the brilliant idea to string the hammock between two wall lockers. When he laid upon the hammock, he pulled the two wall lockers down upon himself and was crushed to death."

Unfortunately, none of these published attempts to improve the gene stock come close to some of the previous winners of the Darwin Award.

In 1996, a lawyer tried to demonstrate the strength of windows in a skyscraper by taking a running jump at them. He crashed through the window and plunged 24 floors to his death on the pavement below.

As he insisted, the window was sound. But he had neglected to check the frame which failed to hold the pane.

The best of all Darwin Awards remains the first. It is the case of Larry Walters who in 1982 attached helium balloons to his deck chair to get closer to the sun as he tanned in his garden.

Mr Walters, perhaps aware of the dangers he risked, brandished an airgun as he floated skywards. His idea was to shoot the balloons one by one, effecting a gentle rise and descent to earth.

But his chair went up rather faster than he had expected and soon he was cruising at about 11,000ft.

A rescue by an emergency helicopter succeeded 14 hours later after he was spotted by a pilot approaching Los Angeles airport. He was dragged back to the ground and promptly charged with violating air space.

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