5 Disasters Caused By Sheer Incompetence

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by Pauli Poisuo

We all know that one guy who’s so clueless about what he does that he’s basically a ticking time bomb waiting to explode in a wet fart of ineffectiveness. And usually, the scope of damage is pretty limited -- maybe they accidentally shred an important letter or just forget the guac on your burrito for the fifth time in a row.

Or maybe they’re one of the rare people who ruin hugely important things in catastrophic ways.


Gender Reveal Party Causes Disastrous Wildfire

If you’re one of the lucky few who don’t know what a gender reveal party is, it’s a gimmick event that expectant parents host to reveal, yes, the gender of their work-in-progress offspring. It’s one of those weird, pointless “pay attention to us” things that are going to earn a lot of long looks from future archaeologists, and this particular incident isn’t going to do anything to provide any sort of positive spin.

In 2017, a member of the Border Patrol named Dennis Dickey decided to host a gender reveal party that was literally a blast. He took a bunch of Tannerite, fixed up a nice little smoke bomb where the color of the smoke would reveal the gender of the baby, and once everyone was in place, ignited the contraption by shooting at it. If you think that sounds like an irresponsible child-related thing that a soon-to-be father could do, you should know that Dickey also chose to pull this stunt during a National Weather Service-issued fire watch, in a dry grassland, in 40 mph winds. It ... did not go well.


The smoke bomb turned out to be more of a fire bomb, and the ensuing flames turned into what we now know as the Sawmill Fire. The blazing wildfire burned down 47,000 acres of Arizona, caused $8.2 million in damages, and forced over 100 people to evacuate their homes. The repentant Dickey was slapped with five years of probation and a total of $220,000 in restitution payments.

Oh, and in case you were wondering: It was a boy.

Groundsman Overuses Weed Killer, Ruins Golf Course

Let’s say that you’re a groundsman in charge of a golf course. Your days are filled with cutting the grass, maintaining the shrubbery, keeping the putting green pristine, and fighting the tribe of lost golfers from the sand trap at the 12th hole. You know, normal golf stuff.

It’s hard work, but not super complicated and pretty difficult to mess up. That is, until one day, when it comes time to water the course and treat the grass with a light, diluted weed killer, and is coincidentally the same day you forget the meaning of the words “light” and “diluted.”

The result is, well ... let’s just say that for context, every single thing in this picture is supposed to be green:

And not look like a toddler’s scribble project.

Yeah, that actually happened. In 2008, and for reasons that remain a mystery, the groundsman of the Haywards Heath Golf Club in West Sussex, UK, managed to grab a giant container of industrial-strength Gallup 360, an herbicide that’s specifically designed for the “desiccation of grassland.” Then, the man spent two whole days spraying it on the fairways before noticing that he was pulling an Attila the Hun and the grass stopped growing everywhere he went.

The result was the happy carnage you see above: giant swathes of rusty, thoroughly ruined golf course that just two years earlier was in pristine condition. Even the more optimistic reports estimated that the damage would take months to un-damage.

Genesis Spacecraft Crashes Because Some Parts Were Installed The Wrong Way

In September 8, 2004, two helicopters piloted by Hollywood stuntmen were hovering above a Utah desert, waiting to capture footage of the Genesis spacecraft as it gently landed on the ground. Well, that was the plan, anyway. Instead, they could barely blink as the 450-pound capsule tore through the air and crashed rather impressively at nearly 200 miles per hour. Most of its payload was completely destroyed, and the remains of the craft were described as looking like a “coffee can that had been pulled open halfway”. You’ll recognize this as the absolute last description you want to hear about your $264 million space-faring vehicle that has just spent two years carefully collecting particles harvested from solar winds and a comet’s tail.



And looking rad while doing it.

The cause of the crash was simple enough to locate: A specially-made parafoil parachute that was supposed to slow Genesis down to non-breakneck speeds before the touchdown had failed to open. The technical reason behind this failure, however, was a full-on egg in the face for everyone involved: The switches that were supposed to trigger the parachute’s deployment were installed the wrong way around. So were the backup switches that were supposed to take over if some dumbass, say, installed the first ones the wrong way around.

The inevitable investigation found a whole layer cake of failure in the construction process. First, Lockheed Martin, who had submitted the designs, had drawn the switches the wrong way. Then, several NASA review processes failed to spot the error. Finally, the people who built the physical craft didn’t realize that they were literally installing some of the parts upside down. Sure, NASA is quick to point out that the parts in question were very small and complex and the mistake was an easy one to make. They had to X-ray the remains of the craft just to find out that there had been a mistake. Still, a counterpoint: Absolutely everything about space travel relies on small, complex details where mistakes are easy to make. That’s basically the job description, and the Genesis case proved that failing at said job can and absolutely will result in hundreds of millions of dollars worth of sad, smoking rubble.

Woman Destroys An Avant-garde Painting By Filling It Out Like A Crossword

It’s not easy working in a museum. Half the time, you’re trying to prevent grabby tourists from leaving mustard-stained fingerprints on statues; the other half you’re locked in mortal combat against stealthy cats. And that’s just a normal day at the office. On a particularly bad one, some thoroughly clueless individual might saunter into your exhibit and start filling out an art piece like it was a crossword puzzle.

“What’s a six letter word for ‘Something you say when you make a mistake?’ It starts with W and ends with P and S.”

This actually happened in Germany’s Nuremberg Neues Museum in 2016. To be fair, there were some mitigating circumstances, so this act of terror wasn’t quite on par with, say, casually drawing a mustache on Mona Lisa. The artwork in question was one of a 1965 avant-garde series called “Reading-Work-Pieces”, which looks a whole lot like a partially filled crossword and even features the phrase “Insert words.” Also, the vandal in question was a 91-year-old lady who was presumably uninitiated with the higher nuances of avant-garde, and took the whole “insert words” thing as an invitation to fill out some sweet, sweet crosswords. So she whipped out a pen and got to work. She managed to deface the $89,000 artwork enough that the museum had to file a criminal complaint, though they did it largely for insurance reasons -- no one believed that the little old lady seriously meant to vandalize anything.

So we guess the moral of the story here is: If you really want to cross that art vandalism off your bucket list, you’re way, way more likely to get away with it once you’re in your nineties.

Man Kills World’s Oldest Tree Trying To Get A Routine Sample

Think about the absolute worst day you could ever have at work. The one where you clock in hungover and mourning your recent breakup, and you just know that you’ve got the King Midas touch, except instead of gold everything turns to crap. Where awful customers and impossible assignments start raining down as soon as you enter the premises, and no amount of unpaid overtime will be able to take care of it all.

Regardless of the image you just conjured, it’s not going to hold a candle to the most awful workday of Donald Rusk Currey. His Worst Day Ever happened in 1964, when he was researching trees ... and managed to kill the oldest tree mankind had ever discovered.

Here’s how it happened: Currey was taking some samples from assorted trees, when his corer suddenly got caught in an otherwise unassuming Great Basin bristlecone pine. He really wanted his tool back but it was so badly wedged in that it couldn’t be removed without cutting the tree. Fortunately, a park ranger happened to pass by, and together, they felled the bristlecone pine. Currey’s corer was regained, and all was well in the world.

And then, he started counting the tree’s rings.



“Oh no …”

A fun thing about great bristlecone pines is that they don’t necessarily look like super old and mighty trees, even if they might be one. They’re gnarly little 20-footers that stop visibly growing after a thousand years or so, and then condense into a durable-but-unassuming little Gollum-tree that can live thousands and thousands of years. The one Currey had just cut down was called the Prometheus tree. It was over 5,000 years old, and it would take more than 50 years until another tree of similar age was found.

Fortunately for Currey, this was not the end of his budding career. He received his share of crap from the press and the scientific community, but his screw-up was ultimately helpful in establishing the Great Basin National Park to protect the remaining bristlecones, among other things. Currey was able to go on and establish a successful career in academia, but for obvious reasons, he always remained the Tree Guy. Despite his many respectable academic decades and several scientific papers, the Prometheus tree incident is still pretty much all his Wikipedia entry talks about.

Like this article? Check out “5 People Who Caused Massive Damage For Stupid Reasons” and “5 Art Disasters That People Really Should Have Seen Coming”.

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