The daredevil “Mad” Mike Hughes was killed in a rocket launch gone wrong Saturday in Barstow, Calif., two witnesses to the accident confirmed. He was 64.
It was the third launch for Hughes in one of his homemade rockets and part of his eventual plan to be able to determine for himself, up in the sky, if the Earth was as flat as he proclaimed to believe.
“Mad” Mike Hughes climbs into his home-built rocket before its launch near Barstow, Calif. Hughes was killed when the rocket crashed into the ground shortly after launching.
A steel ladder was attached to the rocket’s launch ramp to make it easier for Hughes to enter the rocket’s cockpit. But when the rocket launched, it ended up hitting the ladder and setting the launch on course for disaster.
“It ripped off a parachute can, which deployed the parachute, which got caught in the thrust of the rocket and kind of took the rocket off course a little bit,” said Justin Chapman, a freelance journalist who was at the launch site.
The steam-powered rocket wobbled and did a huge arc before crashing less than a minute later.
“He went way up in the sky,” Chapman said. “I’m not sure how high. But his goal was 5,000 feet. Then it did an arc and then came straight down and nose-dived into the desert floor about half a mile away from the launch pad.”
The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said deputies were called at 1:52 p.m. Saturday to a private property off of Highway 247 in Barstow and pronounced a man deceased “after the rocket crashed in the open desert during a rocket launch event.”
“We don’t know what happened,” said Waldo Stakes, a close friend of Hughes who’s been involved in the launches and was at the scene. Stakes says the rocket landed nearly a mile away from the launch site.