An Indian bus driver may have become the first “known” person in recorded history to be killed in a meteorite strike. The man reportedly died after being hit by splinters “from exploding space rock” on Saturday, February 6, 2016, at a private engineering college in the northern Tamil Nadu state of India.
The chief minister of Tamil Nadu state, J. Jayalalithaa, confirmed on Sunday that Kamaraj, a 40-year-old bus driver with the Bharathidasan Engineering College, a private institution at K. Pantharappalli village (K.Bandarappalli) near Natrampalli, in the Vellore district, was injured seriously on Saturday after he was struck by splinters from a falling meteorite or “space rock” as he stood near a building at the college premises.
According to a report by the Hindu, the man was drinking or fetching water at a tank on the college premises after midnight when the meteorite strike occurred.
Witnesses said they saw a glowing object falling from the sky and then a “deafening” explosion. The explosion, according to the NDTV, caused a crater and shattered the windows of a college building (see surveillance camera footage below) and buses parked nearby.
The water tank was also broken by the explosion, the Hindu reports.
But a preliminary report by the local police denied claims that the incident was caused by a meteorite strike. According to the report, the “explosion” was caused by gelignite — (blasting) gelatin stick — used for construction work at the school but left on the ground carelessly, according to the New Indian Express.
The police report went on say that the gelatin sticks were detonated inadvertently by a gardener burning rubbish on the school premises.
But Chief Minister Jayalalithaa confirmed later that investigating authorities recovered a piece of meteorite from the scene of the incident. Forensic experts also found no evidence of a blast caused by man-made explosives.
According to the statement from the minister’s office, “A mishap occurred yesterday when a meteorite fell in the campus of a private engineering college in Vellore district’s K Pantharappalli village.”
According to a follow-up statement by the local police after a bomb detection and disposal team visited the site, “We can [now] rule out the possibility of any terror angle or sabotage. Not a single ingredient pertaining to any kind of explosive was found at the site. We suspect it to be a meteorite fall.”
The bus driver was rushed to the nearby Vaniyambadi Government Hospital but died on the way, according to the New Indian Express. A senior police officer told the Hindu that three other people suffered minor injuries in the same incident.
According to a statement by the chief minister, “I have ordered the Vellore district administration and hospital officials to provide them [injured victims] best treatment.”
The chief minister also announced compensation worth about $1,450 for the family of the victim, according to NDTV.
A similar incident was reported at Alangayam, also in the Vellore district, late last month. A scientist with the National Physical Laboratory who was working at a site nearby rushed to Alangayam after villagers reported sighting a bright object falling from the sky and impacting the ground.
“The scientist was camping nearby and rushed to the college soon after hearing the news of the blast. We are convinced that it is a meteorite that fell with high velocity. In the earlier incident, local people remember having seen an object falling from the sky in the field,” an official told the Hindu.
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