Flying Lawnmower Game

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A flying lawnmower
The Flying Lawnmower Game was a game at Shea Stadium between the New York Jets and the New England Patriots which featured a bizarre incident which claimed the life of a Patriots fan.

Contents

Background

It was December 9, 1979 and the Jets (6-8) were hosting the Patriots (8-6). The Jets had been eliminated from the playoff contention, but a win would end the Patriots' chances of making the postseason. The halftime show was an exhibition staged by the Electronic Eagles of the Radio Control Association of Greater New York.

The Game

First half

The Jets struck first, Derrick Gaffney reeling in a 13 yard pass from Richard Todd for a 7-0 lead. The Patriots came back in the second quarter with 12 unanswered points before Tom Newton restored the Jets lead with a 1 yard run, and Dave Jacobs kicked a field goal to make it 17-12 at halftime.

The Halftime Show

The Electronic Eagles' model air show, a popular entertainment previously presented hundreds of times at halftimes and other events, featured radio-controlled airplanes that performed maneuvers around the stadium, engaged in aerial dogfights, and showcased flying model planes crafted in unusual shapes. On this occasion, however, the exhibition did not go off without a hitch. Partway through the show a model plane (Snoopy’s flying doghouse) crashed into the football field — a harbinger of tragedy to come, especially after the crowd began to grow concerned about how closely some of the aircraft were approaching to fans seated in the stands. As one spectator present later expressed his unease to the New York Times: 'They were sending those things right over the crowds. 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.'

Shortly before the end of the 15-minute show, Philip Cushman, a Brooklyn auto collision repairman, lost control of the model aircraft he was guiding, a novel plane shaped like a lawnmower with a red reel and silver handle. The plane circled the stadium a few times, then abruptly nose-dived into the stands about five rows behind the Patriots' bench on the third-base side of the stadium. As the lawnmower-shaped craft plummeted into the seats, it struck two spectators, 20-year-old John Bowen of Nashua, New Hampshire, and 25-year-old Kevin Rourke, of Lynn, Massachusetts.

Both men suffered serious head injuries from the incident. Kevin Rourke received emergency room treatment for a concussion and was admitted to a hospital for additional observation, while John Bowen, whom one observer at the scene described as looking 'like he had been attacked by an ax,' underwent emergency surgery that evening. Although Rourke recovered satisfactorily was eventually discharged from the hospital, Bowen died of his injuries four days later.

Second Half

The game resumed for the second half, with the Patriots scoring to retake the lead, 19-17. Todd would run it in from 8 yards to give the Jets a 24-19 lead at the end of the third quarter. Jacobs would kick a 25 yard field goal, and the Patriots only reply was a 39 yard reception by Stanley Morgan, who had six catches for 129 yards. The final score was 27-26 to the Jets, and the Patriots playoff hopes had crashed.

Aftermath

Police and prosecutors began an investigation when it became apparent that Bowen was unlikely to survive his injuries, but Queens district attorney John J. Santucci said authorities 'had no reason to believe [the incident] was anything other than an accident,' and the matter was judged to be a civil issue rather than a criminal one.

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