Strong winds can turn the most innocent objects — like branches and car dealership signs — into lethal weapons. Now, we can add beach umbrellas to the list.
A 55-year-old woman died after a windblown beach umbrella hit her in the chest with about 800 pounds of force, according to new research. The freak accident happened so quickly that the woman’s companion didn’t even see the umbrella hit her. (A bystander, however, did.) The companion “noted only that the woman was gasping for breath and was unable to speak,” according to the paper published last week in the Journal of Forensic Sciences. The victim was taken to the hospital but died within an hour.
Though this marks the first recorded death by an airborne beach umbrella, bizarre deaths happen more often than one might assume, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention keeps tabs. Between 1999 and 2016, for instance, over 1,000 peopled died because of “contact with powered lawnmowers,” according to the CDC. People have been injured by rain umbrellas, and one man lost his eye after a windblown beach umbrella hit him in the face.
The study doesn’t say where and when the deadly incident took place. An autopsy of the victim’s body revealed that the umbrella tip stabbed her in the chest, cutting through muscles and cracking ribs. The umbrella was never found, so the researchers used a similar 11-pound beach umbrella to calculate just how fiercely the woman was struck, based on wind speeds from the day of the incident. Their calculations show that with winds blowing at 22 miles per hour, the umbrella delivered about 800 pounds of force to her chest. Wind gusts that day reached 28 mph, so it’s possible that she was hit with up to 1,000 pounds of force. The pressure with which the tip of the umbrella impaled the woman was about 16,000 pounds per square inch, the study says.
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