Hughes previously launched in March 2018, soaring roughly 1,875 feet in the air in the Mojave Desert before parachutes deployed. He emerged relatively unscathed at the time.
Legendary daredevil 'Mad' Mike Hughes died in a tragic accident on Saturday while attempting to launch a homemade rocket. The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department revealed that the self-taught astronaut who professed to believe that the Earth was flat, launched himself above the open desert near Barstow, California, in a homemade steam-propelled rocket just before 2 p.m. Hugh's publicist Darren Shuster confirmed the 64-year-old's death, revealing that his client's last message to him that morning was: "Is the media going to be there?"
According to NPR, this was Hughes' third launch in one of his homemade rockets in his self-professed quest to determine for himself whether the earth is, in fact, flat. However, Saturday's stunt took a fatal turn due to a ladder that was attached to the rocket's launch ramp for ease of entry into the cockpit. The rocket hit the ladder upon launch and set off on a disastrous course that ultimately cost the daredevil his life. Justin Chapman, a freelance journalist who was at the launch site, revealed that the ladder "ripped off a parachute can, which deployed the parachute, which got caught in the thrust of the rocket and kind of took the rocket off course a little bit."
A video of the launch posted by Chapman shows a parachute falling down to the earth as the steam-powered rocket shot off into the sky. In less than a minute, the rocket is seen plummeting and crashing near the launch site. "He went way up in the sky. I'm not sure how high. But his goal was 5,000 feet. Then it did an arc and then came straight down and nose-dived into the desert floor about half a mile away from the launch pad," the eye-witness recounted.
According to The New York Times, Saturday's launch was being filmed for a new television series named Homemade Astronauts, for Discovery's Science Channel. Following the tragic accident, the network extended it's condolences to Hughes' loved ones in a statement that reads: Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends during this difficult time. It was always his dream to do this launch, and Science Channel was there to chronicle his journey. The late daredevil is survived by two children. The network previously revealed on its website that the launch was supposed to take him 5,000 feet into the air, deeming it "only the first step towards an even more ambitious goal in space exploration."
Michael 'Mad Mike' Hughes tragically passed away today during an attempt to launch his homemade rocket. Our thoughts & prayers go out to his family & friends during this difficult time. It was always his dream to do this launch & Science Channel was there to chronicle his journey pic.twitter.com/GxwjpVf2md— Science Channel (@ScienceChannel) February 23, 2020
Hughes and his longtime associate, Waldo Stakes, were reportedly aspiring "to launch Mike 62 miles into the air, clearing the Karman Line — the border between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space." They planned to incorporate a "Rock-oon" (part rocket, part balloon) into this phase. The rocket-balloon is still in development and the men hoped to raise awareness through the initial launch that took place over the weekend.
Speaking to reporters shortly after the crash, Stakes said, "We don't know what happened," adding that the rocket landed nearly a mile away from the launch site. Hughes previously launched in March 2018, soaring roughly 1,875 feet in the air in the Mojave Desert before parachutes deployed. Save for a pain in his back, he emerged relatively unscathed at the time. This launch was preceded by one in 2014, when he launched in Winkelman, Arizona, traveling 1,374 feet. Prior to taking up an interest in rockets, Hughes was a limousine stuntman and set a world record for the longest limousine ramp jump when he jumped a 6,500-pound Lincoln Town Car stretch limo 103 feet at Perris Auto Speedway in 2002.
"He was trying to re-create the Snake River Canyon jump that Evel Knievel tried years ago. And I think that ultimately didn't come together. But he did just jump limos over big distances and then moved on to building his own rockets and launching himself that way," said Chapman, who has been writing a lengthy profile of the famed daredevil. The freelance journalist claimed the steam-powered rocket launches were more of a publicity stunt that a quest to prove Hughes' noted flat-Earth beliefs. He added that Hughes "fully understood the risks" of his rocket launches. "He knew very well, he said very often, that this thing could kill you, he was very well aware of that. He was a daredevil and he was driven by this compulsion to do extraordinary things and inspire people, as he put it."
Last year, the documentary Rocketman captured the "crew of dreamers" who work to launch Hughes "in a homemade rocket on a mission to prove that the Earth is flat." The filmmakers posted a tribute to the daredevil on Sunday, writing that he "had a soft spirit and empathy for the world" that was often at odds with his public persona. "He was often lonely and felt his accomplishments as a daredevil had been forgotten. Ultimately, he just wanted to lead a meaningful life. He had very little money, but he found a way to bring excitement and purpose to his life by doing affordable stunts with rockets that he built himself using spare parts."