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Friday, 23 March, 2001, 11:26 GMT
No Mir accident

In the end, everything went to plan with the Mir descent. The 130-tonne space station crashed into the middle of the Pacific Ocean. But could you have insured against Mir landing on your house? Chris Horrie tried his luck.

Lombard Insurance is an excellent firm of brokers. They are so well versed in the trade that they even put a loophole in their slogan:

"We insure almost anything."

You think it couldn't happen to you
Nevertheless I was encouraged and rang the number I found on the internet.

"Hello - I was wondering if I could insure my house against the possibility - faint though it is - of being hit by the Mir space station," I asked the assistant.

I was put on hold and treated to an ear-splitting rendition of Chopin played on a Rolf Harris stylophone while she looked into the matter.

"It's probably covered by your general household insurance," she said, matter-of-factly. "If you are worried about it, we can insure your house and that will cover damage from the satellite."

The problem, I explained, was that I knew that household insurance cost about 200 a year.

Screaming woman
Insurance is all about peace of mind
The risk of being hit by Mir was very slight so, I asked, "can you do me a special policy - a lot cheaper than a general policy - and one that just deals very specifically with a huge lump of steel the size of a London bus falling out of the sky and flattening my house and nothing else?"

More Chopin.

"No we don't do that. As I say - its covered by your household insurance. Sorry."

Next I tried on-line brokers A1 Quote Direct.

Here the Musak was much better - a sort medley of Tom Jones themes played by robots and without the singing.

The assistant here, Pam, went through the "it's covered by your general policy" routine and proceeded to ask a huge number of personal "take your details" questions before quoting a price.

Tom Jones
Helps take your mind off obliteration
She then tried to sell me some additional "accident damage" cover which, she said, would pay out if, for example, "you put your foot through the ceiling or a break a floorboard".

I said that I was not really worried about that. What I wanted protection from was being hit by a decommissioned, but possibility radioactive, space station.

"Ahhh I see," said Pam. "You've got me worrying about this space station now."

She offered to put the quote in the post - a futile exercise since it would not arrive until well after the likely time of impact by which time, if the policy is worth anything at all, my house would be a vast smouldering crater full of ex-Soviet shrapnel and mangled solar panels.

"I think he's giving us odds of a billion-to-one"
Since I was getting nowhere with insurance, I tried placing a bet. That way, I reckoned, for a sum much smaller than general house insurance (I had one pound in mind) I would win enough money to rebuild the house - in the event of an unhappy collision - and also become a multi-millionaire in the process.

But Ladbrokes were not keen. "We've looked at this one and decided to give it a miss," said a spokesperson. "There's a danger that somebody could be killed - a major accident even. We don't want to profit from taking bets on a thing like that."

By this point I was involved in a separate discussion with insurance experts about whether or not having your house wrecked by Mir would count as an "Act of God". My argument was that this could not be the case since we were talking here about a Communist space station and Communists are atheists.

"So it's damage by an 'Act of Atheism' if anything".

The "culprit"
Lastly I tried William Hill, the country's leading bookmaker. Here I changed my approach, planning to work up to the mention of placing a bet on Mir landing on my house by asking if they were taking bets on where - in general - the space station would land.

But, as has been the case with Ladbrokes, William Hill did not want to play ball on grounds of taste and decency.

"I mean... what if it landed on your house," the spokesman said.

"Funny you should say that..." I replied.

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23 Mar 01 | Sci/Tech
Mir meets fiery end
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