Cannon Disasters

Help Support Muzzle Loading Forum:

Not open for further replies.

Cannon Disasters

I don't know why I hadn't thought of this sooner, but better late than never. Many members lurk in the shadows and never post, but they are still getting the benefit of our collective knowledge. After reading of a recent near disaster with what a person thought to be a cannon, it was actually a lawn ornament, I decided that I should search the interenet and post some of what I found here. Feel free to report any cannon related accidents, so that they might be added here, so that we may learn from the mistakes of others and not our own.

This is from the IDAHO MOUNTAIN EXPRESS AND GUIDE, News For the week of September 6 through 12, 2000.

Cannon firing injures Wagon Days participant
Express Staff Writer

This year’s Wagon Days parade was marred by a tragic accident.

Bill Johnston is loaded into a Ketchum ambulance following a cannon accident Saturday before the start of the Big Hitch Parade. Express photo by David M. Seelig.

A Richfield man who was part of a team operating a cannon fired to initiate the Big Hitch Parade on Saturday lost all the fingers of his right hand when the cannon’s black powder charge exploded prematurely.

Bill Johnston, 50, was tamping down the charge immediately following a firing of the cannon to mark the end of the shootout act on Ketchum’s Main Street. The cannon, a 15-year-old, spoke-wheeled replica of an antique weapon, was parked in the middle of Main Street in front of the Pioneer Saloon.

"There had to be something still burning in the barrel and that set it off," said Larry Deeds, commander of American Legion Post No. 1, which supplied the cannon and firing team.

Deeds said the cannon is normally loaded with one-third of a pound of powder, followed by white flour and a small amount of diesel fuel to create a smoke cloud.

"When the powder was put in, it ignited," Deeds said.

According to onlookers, Johnston was thrown several feet backward by the explosion, his face blackened and his hat blown high into the air. He fell to the ground where he lay conscious and bleeding profusely.

The crowd remained quiet and restrained, but Johnston was immediately tended to by a doctor and a nurse who stepped out from among the spectators.

The Ketchum dispatcher received a call about the accident at 12:42 p.m. Police Chief Cal Nevland said Johnston was picked up by a Ketchum ambulance and transported to Wood River Medical Center in Sun Valley within 10 minutes after the call. From there, he was life flighted to University Hospital in Salt Lake City, where he was placed in the hospital’s intensive care unit.

A hospital spokeswoman said yesterday that Johnston was out of the intensive care unit and in serious but stable condition. She said he had facial burns and blurred vision.

Wagon Days Committee coordinator Wendy Jaquet said in an interview yesterday that the committee has begun a fund to help pay Johnston’s medical bills. She said the committee will set up an account for that purpose at First Security Bank, but in the meantime anyone who wishes to make a donation can leave a check made out to "Wagon Days Committee-Bill Johnston" at the Ketchum City Hall.

Jaquet said doctors at University Hospital have told her they may be able to use two of Johnston’s toes to create two fingers on his right hand.

"When you’re talking about grafting, you’re talking about a significant amount of money," Jaquet said.

American Legion post Commander Deeds said Johnston’s accident was the first that had occurred in 25 years of the post’s involvement in ceremonial cannon firing.

"We’ll have to re-examine our procedures," Deeds said.

He said future cannon firings might include a wet swabbing of the barrel between shots.

The Big Hitch Parade was delayed about 15 minutes as a result of the accident, but went forward as planned.

Mountain Express reporter Dana Dugan, who witnessed the accident, said the mood among nearby spectators was hardly festive as the parade began. However, she said, "as soon as we walked around the corner, from Main Street to Sun Valley Road, the mood was changed, because people there didn’t even know what had happened."


This Accident occured in England
While the Midland Symphony Orchestra played Beethoven's Battle Symphony, live cannon fire was employed to heighten the experience. The special effects were created by several full-size cannon and banks of mortar tubes provided by the Trafalgar Gun Company, run by Martin Bibbings. A gun crew member was seriously injured when her cannon discharged prematurely. She sustained injuries to her right hand and wrist, losing two fingers (a third was surgically removed later), and the palm of her hand. The bones in her wrist and lower arm were smashed, her face was seriously burnt (black powder was embedded in the wounds); and the blast was also thought to have burnt her lungs.

Man Loses Leg In Fireworks Accident
-- An Omaha man lost part of his leg after a homemade fireworks cannon exploded. Police said that the man, 22, and four other men were using the device near a garage. The steel tube is supposed to launch fireworks higher in the air. But something went wrong and the tube exploded. It disintegrated his right leg. When neighbors heard the blast, they ran to the home to help but there was nothing that they could do. "His leg was gone just below the knee. Absolutely gone. Just nothing left," a neighbor said. Doctors said that his left leg was also severely damaged in the blast, but they believed that it could be saved.

Big gun discharged prematurely
-- Wash., man was hospitalized yesterday after he blew off his hand while preparing a homemade cannon for Independence Day. He was also blinded, at least temporarily, when the big gun discharged prematurely. According to the Clark County sheriff's department, He was loading gunpowder into the metal cannon and was using a rod to pack down the gunpowder. A spark set off the gunpowder and the rod slammed into him. The accident happened at his home, where deputies also found pipe bombs and small film canisters packed with explosive compound and fuses. Investigators said it appeared there was no intent to use the explosives for criminal purposes. The Portland police bomb squad detonated them on site.


Two killed when cannon explodes at motorcycle gathering in Ohio
MARION, Ohio (AP) - Two men were killed when a homemade cannon exploded and sent chunks of stainless steel flying at an annual holiday weekend gathering of bikers in Marion County, the sheriff's office said.

James McKinniss, 39, and Jackie Byrd, 64, both of Marion, were killed by flying pieces of metal when a two-foot steel tube being used a cannon exploded Saturday night.

Witnesses told the Marion County Sheriff's Office that the cannon was used to fire pieces of bread. Investigators said the device had been fired about 24 times without incident before the explosion.

Byrd died at the scene and McKinniss was pronounced dead at Marion General Hospital, the Marion County Coroner's Office said.

The owner of the cannon, 44-year-old Timothy Bullard of Johnson, Vermont, was being held without bond at the Multi-County Jail in Marion Sunday on a felony charge of possessing a dangerous ordnance.

The sheriff's office said the men were among about 100 people attending the ninth annual holiday encampment at a west Marion County residence. Motorcyclists from across the country attend the event each year.


Man Killed When Homemade Cannon Blows Up
LAST UPDATE: 9/28/2004 11:30:22 AM

A 21-year-old man was killed when a homemade cannon blew up, possibly because the wrong kind of gun powder was used.

Mark Reeder was killed Monday evening when struck in the torso by the blast, or by shrapnel from the cannon, said Salt Lake County sheriff's Sgt. Rosie Rivera.

The body was found 30 feet away, but it wasn't known where he was standing at the time.

Reeder and his friend Greg Hunt were preparing to fire their cannon in a field near Hunt's backyard in White City, near Sandy. Hunt, the brother of Reeder's girlfriend, was not injured.

It was not known whether the explosion when they attempted to fire it or while they still were preparing to do so, Rivera said.

The blast at 5:45 p.m. blew the cannon in two and was heard blocks away.

Rivera said the cannon had a 2-inch barrel made from pipe. It was about 2 feet long and welded to a triangle-shaped frame, to which wheels were attached.

The smokeless powder the men used, according to Rivera, may have been a factor in the explosion.

"Smokeless powder burns at a slower rate and builds up tremendous pressure," said Steve Gallenson, owner of Gallenson's gun shop in Salt Lake City. "It'll blow the barrel off or split the barrel of a cannon or muzzle loading gun."

Smokeless powder, which he calls a progressive burning powder, is used in cartridges, such as shotgun shells and rifle and handgun cartridges. Black powder, which burns quickly in a flash, is used for cannons and muzzle loading guns.

"It makes me sad that a young man like that made the wrong assumption when dealing with something this dangerous," Gallenson said.


Teens lucky with homemade cannon
Sarpsborg police were puzzled by a rash of worried calls asking why there had been an deafening bang from the old fortress area. An quick investigation revealed an potentially fatal experiment by three 15-year-old boys was the reason, newspaper Sarpsborg Arbeiderblad reports.
The trio of bored teens had decided to try building a homemade cannon. They used a meter-long iron pipe and bought a steel boccia ball to use as a projectile. The final ingredients were a small amount of gunpowder scraped out of some old fireworks and a fuse.

The three boys set up their cannon at an old defense building and pointed it at a wooden target they made about 30 meters (98 feet) away.

"They were lucky they aimed towards terrain. The ball hit the target they set up 30 yards away and the massive steel ball continued into a thicket before richocheting off the mountain. From there it was tossed nearly 300 meters over Greåkerdalen, accompanied by an enormous bang. This despite a moderate amount of gunpowder," police inspector Knoff Næss told the newspaper.

"In retrospect they see how lucky they have been and are obviously overjoyed that the heavy steel ball didn't hurt anyone. But they could have injured themselves. If they had used the wrong kind of powder it wouldn't have been a cannon, it would have been a splinter bomb," Næss said, and warned others not to try similar stunts.

Cannon injury costs man his leg

A man who lost a leg in a Fourth of July accident involving a homemade cannon says he has remained active despite the loss of the limb, and will soon be getting a prosthesis.

Clay Schmidt, of Bismarck, had his left leg blown off above the knee when a relative at a family gathering in Mandan shot off the cannon, which had been a Fourth of July tradition in the family.

"It could have happened to anyone," said his wife, Penny. "We'd been shooting it off for 10 years. It could have been any of the other 59 people there."

Schmidt, 47, was hit by shrapnel that flew nearly 100 yards. Moments before, his 3-year-old granddaughter had been on his lap.

"I didn't know what even happened," Schmidt said. "There was an explosion, and when I tried to stand up, I just fell down."

Schmidt's brother-in-law, Michael Berland, an emergency medical technician, put a tourniquet on Schmidt's leg. But when Schmidt arrived at the hospital, he had only 1 pint of blood in his body.

"When I woke up after surgery, the people in the emergency room said most people would have passed out or bled to death," he said.

"The doctor said it was like a war injury," Penny Schmidt said.

Clay Schmidt said he did not let the injury get him down.

"They say most people who lose a leg stay in the hospital about a month and lay around the house another month," he said. "I was out weed-eating in my wheelchair right away."

He expects to be wearing a prosthesis sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas. He then plans to go back to work at his construction job.

A fundraiser to help Schmidt with medical costs is set for next Wednesday. A trust fund also has been set up at a local bank.

Schmidt's injury has put an end to the holiday tradition.

"We won't be using the cannon again," Penny Schmidt said. "It belongs to the Morton County Sheriff's Department now."

Thirty-year-old Richard M. Houdek, who was killed by flying shrapnel when he and his co- workers detonated a homemade cannon at defendant's work site on July 6, 1996. On that date, the decedent, Daniel Gannon and Michael Jackson, assembled a homemade cannon in the parking lot of the Medina County Career Center where Warren Roofing was replacing the roof. Mr. Gannon removed the metal double-barrel cannon from his automobile and he and Jackson poured gunpowder into each barrel of the cannon. Jackson and the decedent then stuffed hot dog buns into the cannon for wadding and packed the material with a metal ram rod. Gannon and Jackson testified in their deposition that they were aware of the extreme danger in detonating the cannon.

The decedent, Gannon and Jackson placed the cannon near several automobiles prior to detonation. They huddled around the cannon, inserted the cannon fuses and detonated them. The defendants Gannon and Jackson took cover behind the automobiles. Tragically, as the cannon exploded, decedent, who was standing 38' 2" behind the cannon, was struck in the front of the head by the metal end cap of the cannon which lodged in his brain. He was life-flighted to MetroHealth General Hospital where he died approximately ten hours later.

Man Killed in Cannon Explosion
Bethel, Vermont - July 3, 2006

A holiday tradition turned deadly in Bethel. Colby Madden, 20, was killed Saturday when several families gathered to set off a homemade cannon.

"The rear portion of the cannon exploded and sent shrapnel quite a distance to either side of the cannon and the victim was hit by some of the shrapnel and died from the injuries sustained," explained Vt. State Police Sgt. Todd Ellingsworth.

Police say the cannon was two years old, and had been shot hundreds of times. The accident happened at a home, but police will not say exactly where.

Vermont's Own WCAX Channel 3 News[url][/url]


Pipe Cannon Bursts, Kills Bethel Man
Bystander 30 Feet Away Hit by Metal Fragments
By Carolyn Lorié
Valley News Staff Writer

Bethel -- Colby Caleb Madden, a 20-year-old Bethel man, was killed Saturday when a three-foot-long, homemade steel-pipe cannon exploded, hitting him in the neck and wrist.

Another person, whom police declined to name, received minor injuries.

Detective Sgt. Todd Illingworth of the Vermont State Police called the explosion a “tragic accident” and said it was under investigation. The cannon had been firing “wooden dowels,” Illingworth said. No arrests have been made.

Madden was a 2004 graduate of Whitcomb High School in Bethel and lived with his family. “He was just an absolutely awesome and very much loved person,” said his mother, Pamela Drury, by telephone yesterday.

The accident occurred in Bethel near 1720 MacIntosh Hill Road, the home of Randy and Pam Trask. Madden worked with Randy and his son, Mike Trask, on various carpentry jobs. According to Pam Trask, a group of friends gathered in a nearby field on Saturday afternoon to fire the cannon, which belonged to someone in the group, whose identity she would not disclose. She said she heard a second shot a short time after the first, then someone from the group knocked on her door and reported that an ambulance had been called for Madden, who was hurt.

Trask said she drove to the field, where she found Madden unconscious and bleeding from the wrist, neck and mouth. She said she was told that Madden had been standing about 30 feet from the cannon. An ambulance rushed Madden to Gifford Medical Center in Randolph, where he was pronounced dead at 1:30 p.m.

“It is the worst thing that ever happened to any of us,” said Trask.

Illingworth said the cannon was made of steel pipe about 2 inches in diameter, and that when the rear of the device exploded, fragments shot out in a 30-foot radius.

Hartford Fire Department Lt. Chris Dube said that, although he has never dealt with anyone being injured by a homemade cannon, he hears about such cases every year. “The people who make them are probably not qualified to make something of that magnitude,” he said. “That's stuff you don't play with. It’s extremely dangerous to begin with, and even more so when it’s homemade.”

Nonfatal injuries related to fireworks are rising, according to an analysis by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which last week released figures showing an estimated 10,800 children and adults were treated for fireworks-related injuries last year, up from 9,600 in 2004.

Fifty-five percent of those were under 20; most injuries also occurred on the Fourth of July. Thirty-six people were killed by fireworks between 2000 and 2005, the commission said.

Trask said Madden was an expert on classic cars, an avid dirt bike rider and a “free spirit, who did whatever he wanted to do.”

Whitcomb Principal Bill Elberty remembered Madden as an independent student and steadfast friend. “He was a pretty incredible young man,” said Elberty.

Elberty recalled that Madden, during his sophomore year, worked 40 hours a week in construction, in addition to his schooling, and while he sometimes struggled to sit still in the classroom, he was “extremely bright and capable.”

Elberty and Trask said Madden also was devoted to his family, which includes two brothers, Matthew and Jordan, and a sister, Carrisa. When Madden's older brother, Matthew, was injured in truck accident in November 2004, Madden did what he could to support his family through the difficult period, Elberty and Trask said.

Madden is also survived by his father, John Madden of North Hartland.

Valley News staff writer Peter Jamison and THE ASSOCIATED PRESS contributed to the report.

More to come, Unfortunately :( ....
Last edited by a moderator:
Not open for further replies.

Latest posts