— Days Without Shea —

Filed under: Jets | Shea
by Kingman on April 18 at 1:56PM

Lawnmower_2004While persuing the Web for Shea memories this birthday week, I was surprised to discover Wikipedia made mention of one of the worst Shea incidents I personally witnessed: The lawnmower-halftime-tragedy.

I was at the Jet/Patriots game on December 9, 1979. Shea was not a good place to bring a kid to a football game. The arctic weather required that most fans blotto themselves with whatever liquor or cleaning supplies they could get their hands on.

Nevertheless, my dad and uncle took my cousin and me to this game. We sat in the temporary bleachers they would install for football games out near where the DiamondVision now is. My uncle swears the guys behind us brought a small charcoal grill the game and were blissfully cooking and boozing away.

The halftime show was by a group of aerial buffs that were called (I believe) The Flying Eagles (Wikipedia calls them Radio Control Association of Greater New York). They had these huge model airplanes that circled the stadium while their pilots ran around the football field with remote controls, guiding their crafts, buzzing the crowd and doing tricks. Why anyone thought it would be a novel idea to have airplanes at Shea for a halftime show when real airplanes fly across the skyline every 7 minutes is not worth discussing.

The club’s real schtick was they claimed they could make anything fly. And so they had flying chairs and washing machines and other stuff that doesn’t belong in the air. Then they sent aloft a lawnmower, which began circling the stadium at great speeds, even going through the uprights.  The crowd roared in drunken delight but I remember looking down on the field, where the club pilots were all pointing up and twiddling the knobs on all their remotes. Meanwhile, the lawnmower just went around and around the stadium. That’s when we all realized the lawnmower was out of control.

After circling for a bit, suddenly the lawnmower stalled, over near the third base field boxes, and dropped straight down into the crowd, hitting John Bowen, from Nashua, New Hampshire. He died a week later.

According to Wikipedia: “On November 17, 1981 a $10 million damage suit was filed by the man’s father in the Federal District Court in Brooklyn. Named as defendants in the negligence suit were the New York Jets Football Club, the Radio Control Association of Greater New York, and the man who designed, built and furnished the model airplane.”


[April 18, 2007 5:18 PM]  |  link  |  reply
stopmikelupica said

Wow, great story. I mean unfortunate, but wow. That's a horrible way to go.

Death From Above 1979 is an indie rock band:

[April 19, 2007 8:51 AM]  |  link  |  reply
kingman said

Startling band name. Thanks for the info.

[January 27, 2009 9:39 AM]  |  link  |  reply
Andy Harris said

I remember that, I was at that game too!

[April 2, 2012 3:30 PM]  |  link  |  reply
Dani said

My English teacher was really good friends with him...I heard the story today...:(....and he was an obese boy and his legs were uneven so he had 6 or 7 operations done...once the last operation was done and his legs were even...his weight could be distributed properly...his parents then sent him to the game and then the accident happened... And after countless operations...this had to happen...:'(

[September 6, 2012 6:52 PM]  |  link  |  reply
Kevin Rourke said

I remember the day and game extreely well. My name is Kevin Rourke,I was the other victim that day. I was sitting next to John when the "plane" hit. It dove into the stands above us and when we realised it could not pull up, it was to late.

The "plane" sheared into the top of Johns head with such impact, a friend of mine noted he appeared to have been attacked by an ax.

I was hit across the back of the head and neck with such force I was hospitalized for a week. I suffered severe headaches nightmares and neck pains and PTSD for over three decades. I realize only 18 inches made the difference between life and death.

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