Death by Coconut

There are as many ways to die as there are people. All are tragic (well, most), although many are avoidable. Precautions, such as looking both ways before crossing the street, not looking down gun barrels, a healthy diet and exercise, can prolong the inevitable, but sometimes the termination of our existence can just fall out of the sky.

Work place accidents probably lead the list in this category. With fork lifts, cranes, and the movement of products with people below, the potential of an outta the sky incident increases dramatically. This may be the reason hard hats were developed, and pretty much mandatory with construction jobs, etc.

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No matter the precautions, sometimes, outta the blue, from overhead, with no warning you may be struck down! Although not fatal there is the instance in 1954 when Ann Hodges, napping on the couch in her home was struck by a meteorite fragment the size of a grapefruit!

Accounts of lightning striking people fatally are almost common, and generally accepted as the ultimate “his number was up” scenario. In the United States an average of 54 people die each year as their number came up. This blogger is happy to report that there are a lot of numbers.

Evil Personified

Evil Personified

Another shocking statistic I’ve always heard was that more people die each year of falling coconuts than do of lightning strikes! I have always found this astonishing. I grew up in the boreal forests of North America, and my only exposure to this tropical drupe were the six Rockwell hard, softball sized, brown fuzzy spheres that never moved from the corner of the produce section of the local market. I noticed that fellow northern denizens would pass these face-marked aliens pushing their shopping carts, and looking at them with trepidation out of the corner of their eyes. Who could blame them!

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Things change, twelve years ago I moved to the country of Honduras, and took up residence on the island of Roatan. The tropical environment is a far cry from the cold forests of the north. I am accustomed to a 50 degree (10 C) winter day having the community outside frolicking and enjoying the coming warmth of spring, whereas the coldest temperature ever here was 65 degrees (19C), and my new neighbors were dressing in layers, and standing in front of their ovens with blue lips! All the flora is different on Roatan. Many are gigantic versions of delicate house plants coddled next to the central heating ducts of back home. And there are Coconuts.

Here on Roatan and the east coast of Central America the most common coconut palm is C. nucifera nana, or the dwarf version of the coconut palm, probably migrating from India via the Atlantic in ancient times. This tree can grow to about twenty feet tall, and produces a fruit/nut (drupe actually) of about three pounds. These trees line the beaches with the lethal missiles hanging in groups beneath the palm fronds, and I stay out of the drop zones. A little quick math and internet searching and I discover that a coconut rocketing to the ground from twenty feet will impact at a little under twenty miles an hour. Observing naïve tourists lounging in the shade of these potential harbingers of tragedy, seemingly without a care or hard hat, got me to thinking that perhaps this dreaded fruit was not so deadly as I had been told. Certainly a 3-pound object traveling in excess of 15 mph smacking you in the noggin would raise a welt, but receiving a mortal wound seemed a little far-fetched.

Possible perpetrators

Possible perpetrators

Then I heard of C. nucifera typical, or the tall coconut. Somehow migrating from the islands in S. E. Asia via the Pacific in ancient times, this tree, producing the same 3-pound projectile can grow to 90 feet in height and drop a nut with an impact velocity of 60 mph. This is a definite drop zone and hard hat area, and I believe we may have found our murderous culprit.

There goes the neighborhood.

There goes the neighborhood.

Roatan was settled early in the days when the Americas were “discovered” and many island family trees reach back far enough to consider the Mayflower Pilgrims to be new in town. So I casually asked some of my older friends here if they had ever heard of someone being killed by a falling coconut?        

            “Gary, the only thing I ever heard like that was when ol’ Jooby (everybody here has a nick-name) drank a ton of rum and wanted his woman to make coconut pie. She say, ‘Jooby, you wanna pie, you bring the coconut.’ So Jooby climb his drunk ass up the tree and fell out and broke his neck”.

With deadly bombs hanging in clusters over an innocent, and naive population, along with no local legends of rampant death or dismemberment by falling food sources, it was time for some real research, and I pulled out my phone.

Wikipedia has some great statistics on death by falling coconut where it is stated that there are only 18 instances of death by falling coconut in the history of the universe! Now, there are other coconut related deaths, my favorite being;

“In December 1923, a New Castle, Pennsylvania, man was killed while trying to crack open a coconut with the butt end of a loaded revolver. The gun discharged, and the man was shot in the abdomen.”

So put away those fears, visit the tropics, come to Roatan, admire the coconut tree palms lining our white sand beaches, and don’t be like me, leave your hard hat at home.