A Canadian daredevil, curled up inside a specially designed barrel, plunged from the roof of the Astrodome to his death before 35,000 spectators as the barrel missed a water tank meant to cushion the fall.
Karel Soucek, 37, who last July was the first person in 23 years to go over Niagara's Horseshoe Falls in a barrel, had planned the 180-foot drop Saturday night as part of a Thrill Show and Destruction Derby.
The barrel began spinning as it plunged earthward and clipped the edge of the tank. The impact crushed Soucek's chest and abdomen and fractured his skull, the Harris County medical examiner's office said.
The crowd applauded at first, thinking the stunt was successful, said Brian Becker, a spokesman for Pace Management Corp., which promoted the show. But a hush spread quickly when paramedics were called and Soucek was taken away in an ambulance.
He died early Sunday at Ben Taub Hospital.
Becker said the show was still in progress when officials received word that Soucek, who was still alive as he was cut out of the barrel, had died. He said no announcement was made "out of respect for Soucek and his family."
Soucek was to drop into a water tank about 9 feet deep and 12 feet wide, Becker said. But workers said that after Soucek was nailed into the barrel, there were problems stabilizing it.
"It started spinning real bad. After a while the people started getting so impatient that we went ahead and dropped him," said a worker who asked that his name not be used. "Just as we started to release the barrel, it started spinning again."
Instead of landing in the center of the tank, the barrel struck the rim and splashed in.
Stunt man Evel Knievel called the stunt "the most dangerous I've ever seen" and said he tried to persuade Soucek to cancel it.