6 Catastrophic Punishments The Universe Unleashed On Arrogant People

We all remember the classic fable of the king who stood tall because he was vain, and as a result, the giants picked him up first and ate him. Historians dispute whether that was truly based on real events, but every so often, circumstances really do happen in which the most arrogant fail and bring death and destruction to themselves -- or to us all ... 

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6
A Russian Pilot Bet He Could Land His Airliner Blind

Commercial planes were a little more primitive 35 years ago. Pilots back then had access to only the most basic of video games when they got bored, and the mile-high club was a very different experience due to sex not having been invented until Prince did so in 1989. Perhaps most significantly, the flight computer was nowhere as powerful. Digital fly-by-wire and the modern autopilot system only became standard at the end of the '80s. Still, planes in 1986 had instruments that gave you an idea of what's what. And so on October 20, pilot Alexander Kliuyev decided to pull the curtains closed over the windshield on Aeroflot Flight 6502 and land the aircraft without seeing the ground at all.

This photo does not show the actual landing. You can tell from the lack of flames.
Eduard Marmet This photo does not show the actual landing. You can tell from the lack of flames.

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Sources don't agree on exactly why he did that. The most common story in the aviation community is that his copilot, Gennady Zhirnov, bet him he wouldn't be able to. Other reports refer to the challenge more generally as a "dare," leaving blame off Zhirnov, who, if he did make that bet, stood to lose spectacularly whether Kliuyev succeeded or not. Kliuyev was perhaps "testing his abilities," something pilots occasionally do but definitely should avoid when currently operating an aircraft carrying 100 people. 

Either way, Kliuyev's faith in his own powers was misplaced. As he came close to the runway at Kurumoch Airport, 500 miles east of Moscow, air traffic control told him, please, if you must avoid looking at the ground, try linking your cockpit to the beacons on the ground to guide you. Kliuyev refused. Then they told him, please, fly back up and come around again, because your current approach will result in a crash landing, with the "landing" part being debatable. Kliuyev refused. He hit the ground, and the plane flipped over, split, and burst into flames.

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The crash killed 70 people. Among the victims was copilot Zhirnov, who survived the impact, tried to rescue passengers, and then had a heart attack on the way to the hospital. Kliuyev did not die in the crash. Authorities sentenced him to 10 years in prison. Then they launched an inquiry to see whether vodka had perhaps played a role in his recklessness, and when they discovered it hadn't, they extended his sentence to 15 years.  

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5
The Dictator Of Guinea Said He Could Lubricate Power Plants With Magic

When we talk about wacky leaders of the 20th century, we often forget Francisco Macias Nguema. He was the first president of Equatorial Guinea, a country that has had a grand total of three heads of state since it gained independence in 1968. The current guy has ruled for nearly 40 years and counting, but if you thought that makes him the country's ultimate nutty dictator, that's because you've heard nothing of Nguema, Guinea's self-proclaimed "Grand Master" and "Unique Miracle."  

Which makes him sound like a Game of Thrones scholar and a drag star.
Anefo  Which makes him sound like a Game of Thrones scholar and a drag star.

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His typical dictatory policies included making himself leader for life and sentencing anyone who insulted him to 30 years in prison. People who more directly opposed him were all executed, including (probably) the prime minister who led the country right before Spanish rule ended. Nguema killed or exiled a third of the population. A little into his reign, he got rid of the constitution and replaced it with a document that gave him full power, and he changed the country's national motto to "There is no other God than Macias Nguema."

That last part hints about the real source of Nguema's weirdness. He thought he had magical powers. He was the son of a witch doctor (not a typo), and so he ordered all the nation's witch doctors to give him their staffs so he could wield the collective power single-handedly. He dressed his soldiers as Santa Claus as they murdered his opponents. He banned Western medicine, banned fishing, and moved the national treasury to his bedroom.

The money bore his face; it was only fair.
Hyako/Wiki Commons The money bore his face; it was only fair.

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It didn't help that Nguema was high a lot of the time, both on cannabis juice and local hallucinogenics, making him speak to those he had long ago killed. One time, he banned a power plant from using lubricating oil, saying he'd take care of the job using magic. It exploded, of course. A coup formed and deposed him, and he was executed. Poor Francisco Macias Nguema. Since he'd declared himself president for life, he definitely could have lasted for more than 10 years if he'd dialed it back just a notch or two.  

4
A CEO Published His Social Security Number, Confident In His Company's ID Protection Service

Identity theft protection services protect you from identity theft, according to identity theft protection services. However, according to sources who are not identity theft protection services, no one can protect you from identity theft. So when a service asks you to give them all your personal info to keep it safe for a monthly fee, something might be off. You might take a look at the website of identity theft protection service Lifelock, for example, and wonder why they have three different plans that offer the exact same thing:

6 Catastrophic Punishments The Universe Unleashed On Arrogant PeopleLifelock

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Turns out you read the premium features (like, um, "Sex Offender Registry Reports") by clicking "expand," but if a company can't even sell its benefits using an instantly understandable table, why would you ever trust them with your bank account and social security number? 

Lifelock founder Todd Davis offered an answer. He was so confident in his company's ability to protect people's identities that he went and published his own social security number for everyone to see. That number is 457-55-5462. We vaguely feel like we're breaking the law just by putting that here, but if we are, Reuters did first, as did all the advertising companies he paid to stick the number on benches and billboards. 

6 Catastrophic Punishments The Universe Unleashed On Arrogant PeopleLifelock

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So, did Lifelock protect Davis from identity theft, just like they'll protect you? Uh, no. As we said, no company can really totally protect against identity theft. In just the next couple of years after Davis put that ad out, thieves stole his identity 13 times. And besides failing to prevent his ID from being stolen, Lifelock also was unable to catch the thefts as soon as they happened like they claim they can. Davis only found out about the first theft when a company he unknowingly owed phoned his wife. The second theft involved thousands in unpaid phone bills, which Lifelock never caught, and he only learned about when a collection agency stepped in after over a year. 

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This was all bad for him personally, but his company was in for even worse. With clear evidence of his company's deficiencies mounting (and really, even the company's own advertising indicating it was a scam), the FTC fined them $12 million for deceptive business practices. A couple years later, they upped the fine to $100 million when nothing changed. If this rate of increase continues, Lifelock will soon own the government more money than exists on Earth, forcing them to seek new revenue sources, such as offering a fourth tier of BS monthly protection plans. 

3
Stubbins Ffirth, The Vomit-Drinking Doctor

Apropos of nothing, let's talk a little about pandemics. If a disease kills, say, 200,000 people in a nation of 325 million, that's over 0.05 percent of the entire population and deserves its own chapter in history books. Well, the 1793 yellow fever pandemic didn't kill just 0.05 percent of Philadelphia, or even 0.5 percent. It killed about 10 percent of the entire city (or much more, if you count only the reduced population that remained after half of the populace fled Philly in a panic). 

That's why so many documents from that period today appear yellow.
William Birch That's why so many documents from that period today appear yellow.

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For years afterward, doctors intently studied yellow fever, an obsession that historians refer to as "yellow fever fever." Among those interested was Stubbins Ffirth, who sounds like a wizard-in-training but was actually an early 19th-century medical student, which was basically the same thing. Ffirth (yyes, tthat's hhow iit's sspelled) believed that the fever was not contagious at all but was a consequence of the climate. To prove this, he drank black vomit thrown up by the disease sufferers.

So did he catch yellow fever, a fitting punishment, and, in fact, a logical consequence of his actions? No. No, he did not. Though it would have been better for us all if he only did. Instead, as he graduated from student to doctor, his success drove him to further push his stunt, imbibing more concentrated vomit right from patients' mouths. He poured the stuff into his eyes and also rubbed himself with patients' blood and urine. He published a widely read work on yellow fever's non-contagious nature.

This is not a photo of black vomit with flesh floating it it; this is chilled cola. 
Simon Cousins This is not a photo of black vomit with flesh floating it it; this is chilled cola.

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Turns out, though, he was just setting medical science back. Yellow fever was contagious; he only happened to be extracting fluids from patients going through the stage in which it wasn't -- the black vomit stage isn't the contagious one, just the grossest one. Also, most transmissions weren't by a direct fluid exchange but via mosquito. So, Ffith didn't actually come up with any medical breakthroughs, though he did personally discover ffive new ffetishes.

2
The Fitness Celeb Who Thought He Could Outrun A Train

We're going to include here a photo of fitness model Greg Plitt, which we did not select by browsing specific erotic websites but simply got off his Wikipedia page:

To be fair, Wikipedia actually does host a lot of porn.
via Wiki Commons To be fair, Wikipedia actually does host a lot of porn.

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Gregg Plitt was by all accounts a cool guy. He went to West Point and served five years in the army. He jumped out of planes 1,000 times. He put out a bunch of fitness videos, and he had a show on Bravo. And remember Dr. Manhattan in the 2009 movie Watchmen? The face and voice were actor Billy Crudup, but for the CGI body, they used Gregg Plitt as their model -- except, they presumably made his penis smaller for the film, so as not to intimidate audiences too much. 

Sadly, Plitt died in 2015. A train mowed him down, which is normally a death we only associate with suicides and dastardly villain plots; this... was neither of those. Gregg was shooting a video that day, in which he ran on the train tracks to show how much energy he had. He'd previously filmed himself exercising close to the train tracks, which is bold but safe enough, but it seems that this latest video had him on the tracks themselves.

We know it sounds like your mother made up this story, but it's true.
Toan Nguyen/Unsplash We know it sounds like your mother made up this story, but it's true.

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The exact circumstances surrounding the shoot were quickly buried, never to be revealed. But OSHA heard that he might have been advertising a sports drink, and last we heard, they were still looking into just which drink this was, and whether the company was responsible. According to others involved with the shoot, the conceit of this particular video was allegedly that Gregg could run faster than the train. Sadly, he could not, and nor could he get off the tracks in time when a train's blaring horn informed him of this fact.

1
The Cocking Inventor Of The Parachute

Know how we mentioned Gregg Plitt jumped out of 1,000 planes? He wore a parachute each of those times, and each time, it was a parachute whose design had been thoroughly tested beforehand. But not everyone plays things as safe as the famously cautious Plitt. Take daredevil Robert Cocking.  

Pictured here composing a sonnet about the wind's caresses. Louisa Corbaux  Pictured here composing a sonnet about the wind's caresses.

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Robert Cocking had no training as a scientist. He painted watercolors. But he was interested in parachutes, and when he heard the current ones had room for improvement, he designed one of his own. It weighed 250 pounds -- it looks today more like a balloon than what we'd call a parachute, but it had no equipment for rising; it was just designed to fall. To color the outside of the parachute, he turned to a fellow artist named E.W. Cocks (no relation). 

Ironically parachutes are the one type of aircraft that isn't phallic. via Wiki Commons Ironically parachutes are the one type of aircraft that isn't phallic.

To test such a parachute, perhaps it would be wise to release it with a payload and see what happens before trying it out yourself. But cocky Cocking was too cocksure for that, and he cocked up the whole operation. He hung his chute under a balloon at a London 1837 fair, and when the balloon rose to 5,000 feet, he let the chute loose, with himself strapped to it. 

He plummeted to the ground and died -- and, say some sources, passersby looted his corpse, even stealing his glass eye. Instead of "Icarus," we should reverently warn people of the dangers of COCK. 

Follow Ryan Menezes on Twitter for more stuff no one should see. 

Top Image: Eduard Marmet

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