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Human cannonball dies in show stunt horror

A man performing as a human cannonball at a stunt show has died after a safety net failed.

The man, who was not formally identified but was said by police to be in his twenties, was taking part in Scott May's Daredevil Stunt Show yesterday afternoon at the Kent County Showground in England. He was taken to hospital by air ambulance but was later declared dead.

The stunt involved the performer clambering up a ladder and sliding into a giant barrel mounted on the back of a 7.5-ton truck. On being fired into the air the performer then usually turns while in flight and lands on a safety net held in position by poles which are designed to crash to the ground shortly afterwards.

The show, which claims on its website to be Europe's largest independent touring stunt show, has been on the road for 20 years and previously claimed a flawless safety record. Its summer programme began last month but last night the website announced: "Due to unforeseen circumstances the shows are cancelled until further notice."


As well as the human cannonball spectacle, the show also features pyrotechnics, several monster trucks and airborne jumps on motorcycles, quad bikes and buggies.

It was established in 1991 by Scott May, a former schoolboy motocross champion who was inspired to set up the show by the antics of Evel Knievel and Eddie Kidd.

Human cannonballs have been wowing fairground crowds since 1877, when the stunt was performed at Westminster Aquarium in London by a 14-year-old girl with the stage name of Zazel.

In reality, they do not use gunpowder or explosives. Zazel's original feat was achieved using a high-tension spring, while these days performers are expelled from the barrel using compressed air.

They slip into an inner cylinder inside the barrel which at the desired moment suddenly slides upwards at high speed, stopping at the mouth of the barrel and relying on sheer momentum to carry the person out and into the air. The illusion of an explosion is created externally using smoke machines and firecrackers.

As in the tragic case yesterday, it is the landing that has long proved to be the riskiest part of the operation, and down the years more than 30 deaths have resulted from people overshooting the net.