Headline writer needs to remember what happens when the law of gravity is applied to a van


The Stuff headline writer stuffed things up scientifically in saying: Wellington driver’s 40m plunge a ‘miracle’

The first para of the report beneath the headline (with the luxury of having more words to play with) said:

Police say the survival of a van driver who plunged off a 40 metre cliff only to land in the middle of a busy Wellington intersection without harming anyone else a miracle.

Alf is inclined to quibble with this, because he has his own ideas of what constitutes a miracle.

His dictionary defines a miracle as:

An extraordinary and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore attributed to a divine agency:

Turning water into wine counts as a miracle, although turning it into scotch would be a more laudable one.

Plunging off a cliff and harming nobody is simply a matter of good luck for anybody who might have been underneath a few seconds before or after the plunge.

Let’s check out what happened:

The man, aged in his 20s, escaped with moderate injuries this afternoon after his van burst through a cliff barrier and flew across an intersection, dodging a series of potentially deadly hazards as it went.

The crash occurred today near Karori tunnel about 1.45pm.

Police said the driver appeared to have crashed through a hillside fence on Raroa Crescent, landed on the Chaytor Street and Birdwood Ave intersection, rolled at least once and then landed on its wheels about 50m away from the bank, skidding to a halt against a carpark fence.

The story might usefully have added a sentence that said:

Nobody was underneath when the van ended its fall.

As for the silly headline, the driver’s plunge was by no means a miracle.

The moment his van had no firm road or any other form of terra firma immediately beneath its wheels, something called gravity kicked in.

Gravity happens to be a critical factor in every plunge Alf has ever heard of, plus all the others of which he has no knowledge.

But let’s suppose the van had risen from the Chaytor Street and Birdwood Ave intersection, pushed through the hillside fence and finished up on Raroa Crescent…

Alf would be tempted to agree a miracle had happened in that circumstance.

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