For the First Time in Recorded History, Someone Was Killed by a Meteorite

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Cortina d'Ampezzo, Cadore, Veneto, Italy
The odds were not in his favor.Photo: Manfred Bortoli/SOPA RF/© Corbis. All Rights Reserved.

The world’s longest odds came into play for a Mr. V. Kamaraj on Saturday as he crossed the campus of Bharathidasan Engineering College in Tamil Nadu, India, and became the first person in recorded history to have been killed by a meteorite. The stone essentially exploded as it fell, shattering the glass in cars and windows and severely injuring Kamaraj, who later died. Three others were also hurt by the strike, which left a four-foot crater near the college’s cafeteria. “There was a noise like a big explosion,” G. Baskar, principal of the college, told The Wall Street Journal. “It was an abnormal sound that could be heard till at least 3 kilometers away.”

Although it was originally reported as a bomb blast, rock fragments found near the scene suggested a more celestial projectile, and on Sunday the state’s chief minister released a statement confirming it was in fact a meteorite, calling its fall and Kamaraj’s death a “mishap” and offering his family (as well as those injured) some cash.

Meteoroids — that’s what they’re called before they land — tend to break up on the way down, often raining fragments over a wide area. Only one other person is known to have been directly hit — Ann Hodges, who was napping in her Alabama home in 1954 when a rock fell through the roof and hit her on the hip — but she survived. A meteorite that exploded over Russia’s Ural Mountains back in 2013 injured close to 1,000 people and damaged thousands of buildings, but no one was directly hit or died there either.

The odds of being struck and killed by a meteorite in your lifetime are small but not absent: About 1 in 700,000, according to astronomer Alan Harris. But that figure is vastly skewed by the prospect of a big meteor that wipes out 6 billion people in one go. The odds of an individual injury like this are closer to, say, a Powerball win and a lightning strike on the same day.