The search continues for two American hot-air balloonists who went missing Wednesday morning during a race over Europe. Pilots Richard Abruzzo and Carol Rymer-Davis were near the east coast of Italy when their tracking device quit transmitting. There were thunderstorms in the area, but Abruzzo and Rymer-Davis are experienced pilots. Former
New Mexico governor and family friend Gary Johnson, who was scheduled to fly with Abruzzo in Albuquerque next week, said, according to Dailypress.com, “If there are any two people capable of coming out of this, it’s Richard and Carol.” But with search efforts turning up nothing, doubt over their safe return is looming large.
Balloonists not the first to suffer sports disaster
The balloonists are not the first to experience disaster in the name of sport. They’re not even the first this year.
In February, luge athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili of the Republic of Georgia died when he lost control of his sled during a training run before the Vancouver Olympics. Traveling nearly 90 miles per hour, feet-first, the sled bounced off the wall and threw Kumaritashvili head-first into a vertical post that supports the canopy and lights over the course.
Even superheroes and legends not immune to sports risk
Sports injury and death is not limited to amateurs and rookies. Disaster can strike anyone at any time.
In 1995, Superman actor Christopher Reeve fell from a horse during an equestrian jumping competition in Virginia. Though Reeve was considered a competent horseman, and was wearing a helmet and protective vest at the time of the accident, the impact of the fall fractured two cervical vertebrae and left Reeve a quadriplegic. He depended on a motorized wheelchair and breathing apparatus until his death in 2004.
One of the most famous sports-related deaths occurred on February 18, 2001, when NASCAR racing legend Dale Earnhardt Sr. was killed. Earnhardt hit the wall in turn four on the last lap of the nationally televised Daytona 500. Although Earnhardt’s death was the most widely publicized, more than 20 fatal accidents have occurred at the Daytona International Speedway since 1959.
Disaster in sports a catalyst for safety improvement
While sports tragedies are not the way anyone wants to learn safety lessons, they do often act as a catalyst, prompting equipment manufacturers, event organizers and athletes to develop better safety gear and procedures. For example, after Earnhardt’s crash, the resulting investigation into his death led NASCAR to mandate the use of head and neck restraints, order the installation of SAFER barriers at tracks, and improve the rigor of seat and seatbelt safety inspections.
With the athletes’ very lives at stake, no wonder public perception of competitors in dangerous events is that of a bunch of fearless suicide jockeys. Recent research performed at the University of Exeter shows that couldn’t be further from the truth, however. A study by sports science graduates found that “the best athletes do not consider themselves risk-takers, but instead calculate the risks involved very carefully and take action to reduce it as best they can.”
One thing is certain: Whether the competition is dangerous or not, athletes will continue to pursue their passion for sports…and some will pay the price for it. Hopefully the missing balloonists will not be among the latter.
Reuters, American balloonists missing during race over Europe, Dailypress.com
John Branch and Jonathan Abrams, Luge Athlete’s Death Casts Pall Over Games, New York Times
Wikipedia, Christopher Reeve
Wikipedia, Death of Dale Earnhardt
Dan Beaver, Statistically Speaking: Death at Daytona, Yahoo! Sports
Duncan Heath, Pro Extreme Athletes Don’t Like Taking Risks, Buzzle.com