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Daredevil ‘Mad Mike’ Hughes killed in rocket crash captured on video

"Mad Mike" Hughes with his steam-powered rocket constructed out of salvage parts
A 2017 photo shows daredevil “Mad Mike” Hughes with his steam-powered rocket constructed out of salvage parts.
(Waldo Stakes / Associated Press)

Mike Hughes, the self-made engineer who billed himself as the “world’s greatest daredevil,” was killed Saturday outside Barstow during a launch of a homemade rocket gone wrong, his publicist confirmed.

Hughes, who went by the nickname “Mad Mike,” was captured on video as he rode a rocket into the sky, failed to activate a parachute and then plummeted to his death, said Darren Shuster, his public relations representative.

The daredevil had been hoping to use Saturday’s launch to reach a height of 5,000 feet, according to a post on Space.com. Instead, dozens of people watched in horror as he fell to earth, said Justin Chapman, a freelance writer who told The Times that he attended the launch.

“Everyone was stunned. They didn’t know what to do,” said Chapman, who had been working on a profile of Hughes. “He landed about a half a mile away from the launch pad.”

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An official with the San Bernardino County coroner’s office said she expected there would be a “lengthy” investigation into the incident. “We have no facts at this point,” she said.

Saturday’s launch was supposed to be featured in “Homemade Astronauts,” a series on the Science Channel, according to Discovery.com. The series followed people looking to “explore the final frontier on limited budgets,” the company said.

Chapman said he believes the daredevil had been knocked unconscious during the launch, which took place in the desert south of Barstow, off Highway 247. “The parachute ripped off at launch,” he said. “So the rocket went straight up in an arc and came straight down.”

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None of Hughes’ backup parachutes activated, either, Chapman said.

Hughes, 64, had been performing stunts for decades, making long-distance jumps in a limousine and, in more recent years, riding in his own homemade rockets. In 2018, his rocket soared nearly 1,900 feet into the air, landing in the Mojave Desert.

Before that launch, Hughes told the Associated Press that he believed Earth is flat — or, in his words, “shaped like a Frisbee” — and that he wanted to fly into space to make sure.

Shuster, who did not attend Saturday’s launch, said the flat Earth argument helped drum up publicity and sponsors for Hughes, who made his rockets at his home in Apple Valley.

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“I don’t think he believed it,” Shuster said. “He did have some governmental conspiracy theories. But don’t confuse it with that flat Earth thing. That was a PR stunt we dreamed up.”

Other sponsors, such as a New Zealand dating app, later signed on to promote Hughes’ adventures, Shuster said.

Eric Sherwin, spokesman for the San Bernardino County Fire Department, said his agency had neither been alerted in advance that Saturday’s rocket launch was going to take place nor informed of the fatality after it had occurred.

Fire Department officials will look into why they were not told of the crash, Sherwin said. A private company, Desert Ambulance, was on the scene at the time, he added.

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“They said they did have a fatality,” Sherwin said. “They pronounced a single person deceased at 1:45 this afternoon.”

Hughes’s DIY rocket-making ventures drew widespread attention, attracting the interest of documentary filmmakers and reality TV producers. His supporters donated money so that their names would appear on his rockets, Shuster said. “He was this generation’s Evel Knievel,” the publicist said, referring to the late daredevil motorcyclist and showman.

“This guy knew he wasn’t going to live till 80. I spent a lot of hours with him,” Shuster added. “He had something in him that compelled himself to push himself further each time.”


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