Up until now, death resulting from falling space debris was considered a fairly unlikely means of accidental death. However, a recent rocket launch in Kazakhstan resulted in a fire caused by falling debris, which reportedly led to injuries, and at least one death; the first of its kind due to such a cause.
IFL Science reported on the incident, saying:
"Following the launch, some falling debris from the rocket appears to have started a fire on the Kazakh steppe when it crashed into the ground, according to the Kazakh Tengrinews website. Debris from Russian launches is purposefully left to fall onto the ground. The blaze was reported by AFP to have been 15 kilometers (9.5 miles) across."
The victim, identified as Yuri Khatyushin, was part of a clean-up crew on hand at the site. Granted, this incident didn't actually result from falling debris striking the unfortunate individual in question; it had bee n the fire that resulted which claimed his life.
Altogether, the likelihood that you might actually die resulting from anything falling from space is exceptionally low.
Stephen A. Nelson, an earth sciences professor at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, published a 2014 paper where he judged that the likelihood that a person could die resulting from a meteorite, asteroid, or comet impact was just 1 in 1,600,000. Florida State College astronomer Michael Reynolds seems to agree, telling National Geographic that, "You have a better chance of getting hit by a tornado and a bolt of lightning and a hurricane all at the same time."
Despite the unlikely odds, there is nothing to say it couldn't happen. A pair of curious reports from the nineteenth century have caused eyebrows to raise over the years, involving a man that was killed, along with another woman nearby who was injured, coinciding with an alleged meteorite strike that occurred in Oriang, India, in 1825. Just two years later, another incident reported in India, this time near Mhow, tells of a man who was struck in the arm by a falling space rock.
Neither incident can be confirmed with any conclusively, however. Similar unconfirmed stories relate how meteorites have disrupted everything from barnyards to wedding parties, and even funerals, though none of these purported incidents resulted in loss of human life.
There is actually one credible story, however, of a woman who actually was injured by a falling meteorite. Some time ago, we featured a short segment on one of my podcasts about the likelihood of “death by meteor strike,” which elicited a response from my friend Lash Leroux, a former World Championship Wrestling pro (who now works as a very talented artist).
Lash LeRoux, former pro-wrestler and all-round renaissance man, holds Disco Inferno in a headlock.
“What if I told you about a meteorite significant enough that it struck a house?” Lash told me. “What if it went INTO the house and struck the woman inside?”
“What if it was a verified story of the only known meteorite victim in history?” Needless to say, he had my attention!
The story Lash told goes back to 1954, on an otherwise clear day in Sylacauga, Alabama. Ann Hodges, an area resident, had been stretched out on her couch taking a nap, and rather fortunately, covered in quilts that afternoon, when large, black stone roughly the size of a softball slammed through her roof, breaking through the ceiling above her. As it passed through the walls of her home, it ricocheted off of a radio sitting nearby, which redirected it toward the couch, putting Ann directly in the line of fire.
The space rock struck Ann in the upper thigh, though fortunately with the blanket padding that covered her, she was left with only a pineapple sized bruise. Nonetheless, Ann Hodges remains the only confirmed victim of a meteorite strike in history... and she survived with just a bruise!
It just goes to show that not only are deaths by meteorite strikes very unlikely, but the only known victim also survived without serious injury. Pair that with the fact that the majority of space rocks that pelt our atmosphere daily are tiny, sand-sized grains that burn up very quickly, and it seems there is little to be concerned about.
Then again, on the outside chance that a large meteor struck the Earth, it wouldn't necessarily have to hit anyone to cause massive climatic changes on our planet. 65 million years ago, it is believed that a comet struck the Earth, which led to the mass extinction of the dinosaurs. More recently, mounting scientific evidence suggests that a similar incident might have occurred over North America around 13,000 years ago, causing a variety of anomalous activity, which scientists recognize today as the "Younger Dryas," a period of sudden temperature fluctuation close to the end of the last ice age.
So while it remains unlikely that an individual might succumb to death from a meteor strike, let's make no mistake about the deadly potential of space rocks striking the Earth... especially if they're big enough.