An Indian bus driver has become the first man in recorded history to be killed after he was struck by a meteorite, sensational local reports have claimed.
The space rock crashed near an engineering college in Vellore, in Tamil Nadu state, where the 40-year-old man was standing, said local minister Jayalalithaa Jayaram, who has awarded 100,000 rupees ($1,470) in compensation to his family.
‘A meteorite fell within the college premises,’ Jayalalithaa said. The man ‘sustained serious injuries and died while on the way to the hospital’.
The space rock crashed near an engineering college in Vellore, in Tamil Nadu state, where the 40-year-old man was standing, said local minister Jayalalithaa Jayaram. Here, workers examine the site.
Jayalalithaa, a former film star, left tight-lipped local officials struggling to explain the mystery blast at the engineering college that left a small crater and broke windows.
The bus driver was standing on a patch of grass near the college cafeteria when he was killed, while two gardeners and a student were injured, officials said. A dark blue stone resembling a diamond was found at the scene.
Government officials at first suspected the blast was caused by explosives accidentally left after building work.
However, investigations found no evidence of explosive material at the site.
‘When no evidence of explosive material was found, we moved to the theory that it might be a meteorite,’ said a district official who asked not be named.
‘It is not confirmed yet as samples need to be analysed.’
A team from the Indian Institute of Astrophysics was expected to visit on Tuesday to collect samples.
G. Baskar, the principal of the college in Vellore district, was working in his cabin when he heard an explosion.
‘It was a sound like nothing I’ve ever heard before,’ he said.
‘There was no smell at all, no fire, nothing.’
The last reported death from a meteorite strike was in 1825, according to a list kept by International Comet Quarterly, a scientific journal.
Simon Goodwin, an astrophysics expert from Britain’s University of Sheffield, said meteorite deaths were rare because the rocks usually burn up when passing through the Earth’s atmosphere or land in the ocean or hit remote areas.
‘When you look at the fraction of the Earth’s surface that is heavily populated, it’s not very much,’ he said.
In 2013, a meteorite exploded over central Russia, raining fireballs over a vast area and causing a shock wave that smashed windows, damaged buildings and injured 1,200 people.
Indian authorities inspect the site of a suspected meteorite landing on February 7, 2016 in an impact that killed a bus driver and injured three others on February 6. If proven, it would be the first such death in recorded history. The impact of the object left a large crater in the ground and shattered window panes in a nearby building, killing the driver who was walking past.
Witnesses told the New Indian Express how the driver was rushed to the hospital after being hit by ‘splinters’ of the so called meteorite, but died on the way.
The impact, which injured three, shattered the windows of nearby buses and buildings, NDTV reported.
After hearing the ‘deafening’ bang outside, students rushed from their classrooms to discover a small crater in the field outside.
Witnesses have told of seeing a glowing, mysterious object falling from the sky – and an explosion when it hit the ground.
But local police have dismissed these reports as rumours, saying the blast was used by ‘gelatine sticks’ which were abandoned in the ground when the college was being built, New Indian Express reported.
Meteor detection website ATLAS says it has ‘no experience with asteroid fatalities’ and ‘death by asteroid’ is extremely low risk.
The 40-year-old man was struck and killed by the splinters of the space rock which fell to ground near an engineering college in Vellore, in Tamil Nadu state (graphic image of an asteroid)
They claimed two of the college’s gardeners were burning rubbish when they ‘inadvertently set off the unused gelatine sticks’.
Images in local media showed a blueish rock, which Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister Jayalalithaa Jayaram described as a ‘meteorite’ – although scientists say this has not yet been proved.
S. P. Rajaguru, assistant professor at the Indian Astrophysics Institute in Bangalore, said the rock could be a meteorite but further tests were needed.
If proven it would be the first meteorite death of a human in recorded history, he said.
‘Most of the meteors never reach the earth surface as they completely vaporise in the atmosphere,’ he told AFP by phone.
‘Hitting the Earth surface is very rare and there have been no deaths in recorded history.’
The object weighed only 11 grammes, the newspaper added, about as heavy as a AAA battery.
Rajaguru said the missile could be debris from a rocket or a space shuttle.
Meteors are particles of dust and rock that usually burn up as they pass through the Earth’s atmosphere.
Those that do not burn up completely, surviving the fall to Earth, are known as meteorites.