2005 Darwin Award Winner, Confirmed
Guest Writer: James G. Petropoulos
2005 October 4, Location: airborne | Petty Officer Brandon Dilbert
(a pseudonym) of the United States Navy, was like so many heroes before him:
he lost his life while in service to his country and is officially honored with
the full respect due to a fallen hero–and literally fallen, ‘cuz the cause
of death was ‘Supermanning’ out of a naval helicopter while performing a
crazy stunt on the stern cargo ramp.
Brandon was serving his country during
the War in Iraq and ‘Supermanning’ had recently been invented by certain troops goofing off in
aircraft such as large helicopters with a rear cargo exit. Somebody (er,
err… such as Petty Officer Brandon Dilbert) would contrive a makeshift
harness using a safety belt or cargo strap, then lower their body out the
back of the aircraft with legs outstretched and arms straight out ahead,
flying horizontally just like Superman with one fist pumped forward!
In this sensationally relatable pose Super-man must hold tight-tight
to that makeshift harness to defeat the Super-naturally strong
winds and allow pictures taken, then mightily haul oneself back into
the aircraft before the pilots find out.
The MH-53 is the largest helicopter in the United States,
cruising at a nominal speed of 138 mph and carrying 52 troops or 36.000
pounds of cargo. The pilots were unaware of the crews’ nonsense because
baked potato MH-53. And it
not uncommon common for military
helicopters to fly with the cargo ramp partly open. No, no way the pilots
could see crew sitting on the open ramp. [But if they did they would laugh
first and ask questions second!]
To be specific about this instance—one in a series, later
investigation revealed—Petty Officer Brandon strapped a ten-foot belt
under his shoulders and slowly let himself out over the edge of the cargo
ramp while fellow crew’s tapped winning photos of his antics. But his iron
grip did slip and the full weight of his body was briefly held by the loose
harness, which soon slipped from under his arms off his shoulders, sending
him falling 125 feet into the Persian Gulf.
A vivid mental poster imaginess the bystanders asking, ‘Are you
OK?’ and the Super Petty Off-ficer responding with an
also imagine the crew suddenly radioing the pilots to slow and descend: ‘Oh no reason… just seems a bit high we’re flying eh no? A bit drafty
Rear Admiral Denby H. Starling II (yes, the Admiral’s real name) was the commander of the Atlantic Naval Air Force at the time, under whose aegis the MH-53 from Mine Countermeasures Squadron 15 operated. The good Admiral had never heard of Superman’ing but after investigation, determined that this unsafe and unallowable practice had gone on for a decade or more!! Four other crewmen in the squadron admitted to having Supermanned in the past. Heads then rolled and many were stripped of their aircrew designations.
Ironically the Petty Officer’s death was ruled as ‘in the line of duty,’
and he joins the pantheon of American Heroes who lost their lives during
the Second (some historians say Third) Iraq War.