Meteorite Impacts in Space and Time
Geol 117

Group Project #9

Laura Daugherty and Emily Van Yuga
What Damage Have Impacts Done to Humans in Recorded History? 
May 11, 2001


    What damage have meteorites done to humans in recorded history?  Through our extensive research druning this semester, we discovered numerous instances of recorded impacts damaging humans, animals, and property.  It was difficult to verify the authenticity of actual deaths and injuries, but we found such an abundance of reports that it became impossible for us to completely discount the reports as hoaxes.  In our report we cite many instances that stood out as both representative of other reports and emblematic of the exceptional nature of meteorite impacts.  We concluded with several scientic analyses concerning the probability rate of meteorite impact upon a human target.


    Many meteorites have been found over the years; many actual falls have been witnessed as well.  But has anyone been injured by a meteorite?  Has a meteorite ever killed someone?  Have they injured or killed any animals?  What damage have meteorites done to human-built structures?  In this report, we will try to answer these questions as best as is possible.
     We say "as best as possible" because the issue of damage to humans by meteorites is a hotly contested one.  There are many scientists and scholars who insist that no one has ever been killed by a meteorite and that only one person has ever verifiably been injured by one.  They also often assert that meteorites are never hot enough on impact to start fires.  However, there is much evidence to the contraryóthere have been numerous reports over the years of injuries, deaths, and fires caused by meteorite impacts. One must take some accounts with a grain of salt, as proper scientific evidence is sometimes a bit lacking; however, most of the reports are plausible and should not be discounted.  As John S. Lewis says in his book Rain of Fire and Ice,
    I have concluded thatÖgeneralizations [like those above] might better agree with the eyewitness reports if they were changed s follows: "No one in recorded history has
    ever been killed by a meteorite in the presence of a meteoriticist and a medical doctor"; "Only one person in recorded history who was struck by a meteorite was
     interviewed by a twentieth-century American reporter"; and "Meteorites have never been observed to start a fire in the presence of a meteoriticist and a fire marshal
    (Lewis 1996)."
We invite you, then, to read on and judge the incidents recounted in the following report with whatever degree of skepticism you deem necessary.  We have selected only a fraction of the incidents to highlight in this reportóyou can see many more (but still not all!) in the lists that follow the text.

Meteorite Impacts Reportedly Causing Deaths/Injuries to Humans and/or Animals:
     If one does not include the report in Joshua 10:11, which says that lethal stones were cast down from heaven by God in about 1420 BCE (Lewis 1996), the first known death-by-meteorite reported occurred in 616 CE in China.  Ten people were allegedly killed after a meteorite impacted at the site of siege towers;  the towers were destroyed, and their toppling might have been responsible for the deaths rather than the meteorite directly hitting the victims (Yau et al. 1994).
     A meteorite shower that bored holes in houses and killed humans and livestock was reported to have occurred in China sometime in between 1321 and 1361.  This report could be viewed as weak because of the dating issues, but Yau, Weissman, and Yeomans suggest that the variation in dates is due to copying errors that occurred during the recompilation of the local histories, so it is still plausible (Yau et al. 1994).  Yau et al. also tell of several other incidents in China, such as the Chíang-shou County Meteorite of 1639, in which tens of people were reportedly killed and a similar number of houses were damaged; the Hsin-píai-wei Meteorite of 1907, in which the Wan family was allegedly killed (possibly from the collapse of their house after impact); and the Ta-yang-chang Meteorite of 1915, which resulted in injuries but no deaths (Yau et al. 1994).
     The most incredible Chinese report is that of the Chíing-yang Meteorite Shower of 1490.  Supposedly, tens of thousands of people were killed during the shower in the Shansi province.  Yau et al. tell us that "[t]he Chíing-yang incident seems rather implausible in terms of the total number of casualties and the narrow size distribution of the meteorite fragments (Yau et al. 1994)," but they also point out its similarities to the Tunguska event, which would have devastated a populated area.
     Two early reports from Italy are recounted by Lewis.  In September of 1511, a monk, along with several birds and a sheep, were allegedly killed after being hit by "celestial stones" (Lewis 1996).  The other account involved a Franciscan friar in Milano who was hit in the leg by a meteorite and died of his injuries sometime between 1633 and 1664.  A report written by the physician who examined the corpse of the monk tells us that the meteorite hit the monk with a sufficient amount of force to sever his femoral artery, causing him to bleed to death (Lewis, 1996).  Another interesting 1600s fatality-causing meteorite impact occurred between 1647 and 1654 in the middle of the Indian Ocean.  Two sailors were supposedly killed when a meteorite struck the ship that they were aboard en route to Sicily from Japan (Lewis 1996).
     More recently, it was reported by the New York Times in a December 8, 1929 article that a wedding party in a small town in Yugoslavia was struck by a meteorite with one person being killed (hopefully it was not the bride or the groom who died!)  (Lewis 1996).  In August of  1951, a meteorite shower was alleged to have killed twelve people, injured twenty, and killed many animals near Teheran, Iran (Special Report 1998).  Livestock were also lost in the incident that reportedly occurred in New Martinsville, West Virginia in 1897.  A meteor exploded over the town, knocking a man unconscious while essentially decapitating a horse and leaving its neighbor in the next stall completely deaf (Lewis 1996).
     The Tunguska event of 1908 also injured and killed people and animals.  Lewis states that "[o]f the approximately twenty people who were within fifty kilometers of ground zero, it appears that all were slightly injured (Lewis 1996)."  Thousands of reindeer were killed, as well as some dogs.  One elderly man was thrown against a tree during the blast and later died, presumably from his injuries, and another old man died of shock.  Another man was thrown to the ground and bit off his tongue.  Several people were knocked unconscious, and one familyís hut was blown into the air, causing bruises to all inside (Lewis 1996, Norton 1998).
     Many other meteorite-caused injuries have been reported through history.  For instance, a man in Bremerton, Washington was seriously burned on the arm when an object (never confirmed to have been  meteorite) streaked into the manís hotel room, exploding and setting parts of the room afire as well.  This incident is even more interesting because it was witnessed by a policeman who was standing outside the building at the time (Webb 2000).
     In another odd event, a couple was driving from Madrid to Marbella, Spain when their car was impacted by a meteorite in June of 1994.  The meteorite, which weighed three pounds, ricocheted off the dashboard and hit the husbandís hand, breaking his little finger and bending the steering wheel (Worthey 1999).
     The most famous (and, indeed, the only accepted) injury caused by a meteorite occurred in Sylacauga, Alabama in 1954.  Mrs. Annie Hodges was taking a nap one afternoon when she was awoken by an "explosion."  She then noticed that she was seriously brusied on her left hip and armóa meteorite had crashed through her roof, bounced off of a radio, and then hit her (Lapaz 19??, Swindel and Jones 1954).  The incident was picked up quickly by the press and is therefore the only verified strike to a human in the eyes of some.

Meteorite Impacts Reportedly Causing Damage to Human Property:
     Most of the impacts discussed above did include damage to human property, such as houses.  There are some meteorites, though, that do most of their damage in the form of destruction of property.  As Norton points out, "In the United States at least twenty-one authenticated strikes [on buildings] have been recorded in the twentieth century," including the two meteorites that fell almost exactly eleven years apart that impacted roofs of homes less than two miles from apart in Wethersfield, Connecticut (Norton 1998).
    Cars are also targets for meteorites, it seems.  The most famous example of this is the Peekskill Meteorite, which fell on October 9, 1992.  The fireball from the meteorite, which is estimated to have had an initial mass of 22,000 pounds, was seen streaking across the sky as from as far away as Kentucky.  The meteorite, which ended up weighing 26 pounds at impact, struck the car of Michelle Knapp and tore a hole through her trunk (Norton 1998).
    Other incidents of meteorites hitting cars have been reported.  The first incidence of a car being struck by a meteorite is said to have been in 1938 in Benld, Illinois.  A meteorite crashed through the roof of a garage; struck the car; penetrated its roof, backseat, and floorboards; bounced off the muffler; and finally lodged in the cushions of the seat (Worthey 1999).  Another car was reportedly struck in Minnesota in 1961, according to newspaper accounts (Webb 2000).
    Fires are another consequence of a meteorite that impacts a human structure.  Despite the serious debate that has gone on about the possibility of a meteoriteís being hot enough to start a fire in the first place, numerous are the reports of fires caused by meteorite impacts.  Lewis recounts many instances, going all the way back to 1759, wherein meteorites crashed into houses or barns and started blazes, including one incident in Ohio in 1907 where a house was destroyed by fire from a meteorite.  He also mentions a 1936 meteorite in Newfoundland that set a fishing boat ablaze (Lewis 1998).  Another case that Lewis discusses involved an astronomer in Washington who claimed that, in 1955, two meteorites had penetrated the dome of his observatory and started a fire in some books.  However, this incident is surrounded by much controversy, and its authenticity is dubious (Lewis 1998).

So How Likely is it that You Will Be Struck?
     After reading this report, you might find yourself concerned about your chances of getting struck by a meteorite yourself.  Several studies have been conducted to estimate the probability of a meteorite striking a human target.  These evluations take into account several factors including the amount of time that the average human spends outside, the amount of the Earthís surface that an individual occupies, the size required for a meteoritre to cause damage, etc. One study by Halliday et al. calculates the rate of impacts to humans as .0055 per year, or 1 event per 180 years (Halliday et al. 1985).  Another, calculated by Lapaz, suggests that, considering the entire world, the chances are 316 out of 1000 that at least one person will be struck by a meteorite in the twentieth century (Lapaz 1958).  While numerous cases have been reported throughout history, an individualís chance of being impacted is slim.  As Lewis asserts, "The most important conclusion is that meteorite falls constitute an utterly negliable hazard compared to a single large multimegaton airburst such as the Tunguska explosion (Lewis 1998)."

Some Established Meteor Strikes:

Date, Location, Structures Struck, Others
Jul 24, 1790 Barbotan, France Building
Dec 19, 1798 Benares, India Building
Dec 13, 1803 Massing, Czechoslovakia Building
Feb 16, 1827 Mhow, India  Man
Nov 11, 1836 Macau, Brazil  Cattle
Jul 14, 1847 Brunau, Czechoslovakia Building
Dec 9, 1858 Ausson, France Building
May 1, 1860 New Concord, Ohio  Horse
Aug 8, 1868 Pillistfer, Estonia Building
Feb 16, 1876 Judesegeri, India Water Tank
Nov 19, 1881 Grossliebenthal, U.S.S.R.  Man?
Sep 22, 1893 Zabrodje, U.S.S.R. Building
Nov 4, 1906 Diep River, South Africa Building
Jun 16, 1911 Kilbourn, Wisconsin Building
Jun 28, 1991 Nakhla, Egypt  Dog
Jul 19, 1912 Holbrook, Arizona Building?
Jan 18, 1916 Baxter, Missouri Building
Dec 3, 1917 Strathmore, Scotland Building
June 30, 1918 Richardton, North Dakota Building
Dec 21, 1921 Beyrout, Syria Building
Aug 10, 1932 Archie, Missouri Building
Apr 2, 1932 Yurtuk, U.S.S.R. Building
Mar 31, 1938 Kasamatsu, Japan Building
Jun 16, 1938 Pantar, Phillipines Buildings
Summer, 1938 Bloomington, Illinois Building
Sep 29, 1938 Benld, Illinois Building Car
Sep 21, 1949 Beddegelert, Wales Building
May 23, 1950 Madhipura, India Building
Sep 20, 1950 Murray, Kentucky 5 Buildings
Dec 10, 1950 St. Louis, Missouri  Car
Nov 30, 1954 Sylacauga, Alabama Building Woman
Feb 29, 1956 Centerville, South Dakota Building
Oct 13, 1959 Hamlet, Indiana Building
Feb 23, 1961 Ras Tanura, Saudi Arabia Loading Dock
Sep 9, 1961 Bells, Texas Building
Apr 26, 1962 Kiel, Germany Building
Dec 24, 1965 Barwell, England 2 Buildings Car
Jul 11, 1967 Denver, Colorado Building
Apr 12, 1968 Schenectady, New York Building
Apr 25, 1969 Bovedy, North Ireland Building
Aug 7, 1969 Andreevka, U.S.S.R. Building
Sep 16, 1969 Suchy Dul, Czechoslovakia Building
Sep 28, 1969 Murchison, Australia Building
Apr 8, 1971 Wethersfield, Connecticut Building
Aug 2, 1971 Havero, Finland Building
Mar 15, 1973 San Juan Capistrano, CA Building
Oct 27, 1973 Canon City, Colorado Building
Aug 18, 1974 Naragh, Iran Building
Jan 31, 1977 Louisville, Kentucky 3 Buildings Car
May 13, 1981 Salem, Oregon Building
Nov 12, 1982 Wethersfield, Connecticut Building
Jun 30, 1984 Aomori, Japan Building
Aug 22, 1984 Tomiya, Japan 2 Buildings
Dec 10, 1984 Claxton, Georgia Mailbox
Jan 8, 1985 La Criolla, Argentina Building
Jul 29, 1986 Kokubunji, Japan Buildings
Mar 1, 1988 Trebbin, East Germany Greenhouse
May 18, 1988 Torino, Italy Building
Jun 12, 1989 Opotiki, New Zealand Building
Aug 15, 1989 Sixiangkou, China Building
Apr 7, 1990 Glanerburg, Netherlands Building
Jun 21, 1994 Getafe, Spain Car Man

Injuries and Deaths Caused by ECO Impacts:

1420 BC  Israel - Fatal meteorite impact.
588 AD China - 10 deaths; siege towers destroyed.
1321-68 China - People & animals killed; homes ruined.
1369  Ho-t'ao China - Soldier injured; fire.
02/03/1490 Shansi, China - 10,000 deaths.
09/14/1511 Cremona, Italy - Monk, birds, & sheep killed.
1633-64 Milono, Italy - Monk killed.
1639 China - Tens of deaths; 10 homes destroyed.
1647-54 Indian Ocean - 2 sailors killed aboard a ship.
07/24/1790 France - Farmer killed; home destroyed; cattle killed.
01/16/1825 Oriang, India - Man killed; woman injured.
02/27/1827 Mhow, India - Man injured.
12/11/1836 Macao, Brazil - Oxen killed; homes damaged.
07/14/1847 Braunau, Bohemia - Home struck by 371 lb meteorite.
01/23/1870 Nedagolla, India - Man stunned by meteorite.
06/30/1874 Ming Tung li, China - Cottage crushed, child killed.
01/14/1879 Newtown, Indiana, USA - Man killed in bed.
01/31/1879 Dun-Lepoelier, France - Farmer killed by meteorite.
11/19/1881 Grossliebenthal, Russia - Man injured.
03/11/1897 West Virginia, USA - Walls pierced, horse killed, man injured.
09/05/1907 Weng-li, China - Whole family crushed to death.
06/30/1908 Tunguska, Siberia - Fire, 2 people killed. (referenced throughout paper)
04/28/1927 Aba, Japan - Girl injured by meteorite.
12/08/1929 Zvezvan, Yugoslavia - Meteorite hit bridal party, 1 killed.
05/16/1946 Santa Ana, Mexico - Houses destroyed, 28 injured.
11/30/1946 Colford, UK - Telephones knocked out, boy injured.
11/28/1954 Sylacauga, Alabama, USA - 4 kg meteorite struck home, lady injured.
08/14/1992 Mbole, Uganda - 48 stones fell, roofs damaged, boy injured.

Cited References (& Database in which source material was identified):

Air Force 2025.  "Planetary Defense: Social, Economic, and Political Implications."  Air Force 2025 Final Report Hompage 11 December, 1996  (4 May, 2001).  []

Halliday, I., A.T. Blackwell, and A.A. Griffin.  "Meteorite Impacts on Humans and Buildings."  Nature 318, 317.  [bib. of Yau et al.]

Lapaz, L.  "Effects of Meteorites on the Earth."  Advances in Geophysics 4, 217-350.  [bib. of Yau et al.]

Lewis, J.S.  Rain of Iron and Ice: The Very Real Threat of Asteroid and Comet Bombardment.  Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co., 1996.  [OBIS]

Norton, O.R.  Rocks from Space.  Missoula Montana: Mountain Press Publishing Company, 1998.  [course textbook]

"Special Report: Death and Property Damage Due to Meteor Destruction."  UFO Research: Cincinnati!  November, 1998
        (5 May, 2001).  []

Swindel, G.W. Jr., and W.B. Jones.  Meteoritics 1, 125-132.  [bib. of Lapaz 1958]

Webb, S.K.  "A Novel Measure of Meteorite Flux."  How Many Meteorites Fall?  30 November, 2000 May 2001).  []

Worthey, G.   "Meteor Near Misses and Strikes."  St. Ambrose University Astronomy  11 October, 1999 (7 May, 2001).

Yau, K., P. Weissman, and D. Yeomans.  "Meteorite Falls in China and Some Related Human Casualty Events."  Meteoritics 29, 864-871.  [Geobase]


This paper was completed as part of the course requirements for Geo117. All source materials have been acknowledged to the best of our ability. The course was taught by Mr. Bruce Simonson, Professor and Chair, Oberlin College Geology Department, with assistance related to the research process for geological and related information from Ms. Alison Ricker, Science Librarian.