December 9, 1979
Queens, New York
A model airplane in the shape of a lawnmower crashes into a group of spectators, fatally wounding one and seriously injuring another
The incident occurred in Shea Stadium during a halftime show. The Electronic Eagles of the Radio Controlled Association of Greater New York had performed during halftime shows in the past, but this particular occasion seemed was marked by misfortune from the beginning: a plane in the shape of Snoopy’s doghouse from the comic Peanuts crashed into the football field and was destroyed during a mock dogfight, and the crowd booed the Eagles when they had difficulty starting another plane.
At least one spectator was concerned about the crafts flying over the stands. “They were sending those things right over the crowds,” a witness told reporters. “I had an aisle seat near an exit and I had it in my mind that if it came near me, I would run. It seemed so stupid, so sick, to send this thing over these people.”
A craft made in the shape of a lawnmower, measuring approximately 2 feet by 3 feet (0.6 meters by 0.9 meters) and weighing between 30 and 40 pounds (13.6 to 18 kg) circled the field several times before it descended sharply into the crowd and struck two fans, one of whom was fatally injured. “When the plane was 10 to 12 feet from me,” the 25-year-old survivor told reporters, “I realized it wasn’t going to pull up. I ducked but it was too late.” The survivor was hit in the shoulder, neck, and head and was knocked unconscious.
John Bowen (20), a friend of the survivor, also received head injuries severe enough to look “like he had been attacked by an ax.” A witness recalled, “It looked like someone threw a grenade into the seats. There was blood all over the place. I don’t know how the guy lived through it. He looked to me like he was dead. It was one of the worst things I’ve seen in my life.” Bowen underwent surgery but died as a result of his trauma on December 13.
It looked like someone threw a grenade into the seats. There was blood all over the place.
The incident prompted some to call for regulations to be put in place by the Federal Aviation Administration regarding remote controlled model airplanes. “I don’t think the F.A.A. on a board program could control it,” an F.A.A. agency official stated. “Model planes are flown all over the country; who knows how many are doing it? Model airplanes flying could be done by a youngster of any age or an oldster of any age. Regulations would be extremely difficult to control or enforce.”
No criminal charges were pressed, though a $10 million lawsuit was filed against the Jets, the Radio Control Association of Greater New York, and Philip Cushman, the pilot of the flying lawnmower. I could find no information regarding the outcome of the lawsuit, however.
Florio, Mike. “A “drone” once killed a fan at an NFL game.” NBC Sports. August 27, 2014. Accessed: December 9, 2020. https://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2014/08/27/a-drone-once-killed-a-fan-at-an-nfl-game/
“THE CITY; Jets Sued on Death As Result of Show.” The New York Times. November 18, 1981 (archived: https://www.nytimes.com/1981/11/18/nyregion/the-city-jets-sued-on-death-as-result-of-show.html)
“Model Airplane Death.” The Palm Beach Post. November 18, 1981
Rule, Sheila. “Fan Hurt by Model Plane At Halftime at Shea Dies; Disregard Charged.” The New York Times. December 15, 1979 (archived: https://www.nytimes.com/1979/12/15/archives/fan-hurt-by-model-plane-at-halftime-at-shea-dies-disregard-charged.html)
Fitzgerald, Ray. “Shea victim mourns friend and asks: Why us?” The Boston Globe. December 18, 1979
“Shea accident still a mystery.” The News [Passaic County, New Jersey]. December 11, 1979