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Are Falling Coconuts Dangerous?

Falling coconuts can cause serious injury.
Due to the height of a coconut tree, a coconut falls with a great velocity.
Some resorts will employ people to knock coconuts out of trees so that their guests are safe from falling ones.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2014
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People can be injured, and in rare cases killed, by falling coconuts. The evidence for the danger has largely been investigated by Peter Barss, who noted a high rate of injuries while working as a hospital director in Papua New Guinea during the 1980s. In 1989, Barss published a study in the Journal of Trauma titled “Injuries Due to Falling Coconuts.”

In Barss’ study, he analyzes the force at which coconuts falling out of a tree might hit a person, and cites the number of people injured by coconuts admitted to his hospital. It is true that a person can be injured, and in some cases killed, by a coconut because the trees are tall, and the velocity of the coconut accelerates as it falls. This could essentially be the equivalent of dropping a coconut, in many cases, off a ten-story building.

Passers-by could have concussions, and it would be theoretically possible for a direct hit to cause death. This would be especially the case if a small child or infant were hit. Most people do not suffer acute injuries from a falling coconut, however, and Barss’ study reports no deaths.

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A statement from George Burgess in 2002 regarding the danger of coconuts stirred the pot, however. Burgess, employed by the Florida Museum of Natural History, stated that people were 15 times as likely to get killed by falling coconuts than to receive a fatal bite from a shark. The trouble with Burgess’ statement is that his information has not been verified. Barss claims that the coconut death toll worldwide cited by Burgess, of 150 a year, is accurate or even too low, but he lacks the documentation to prove his claims as well.

Even though the numbers may be questionable, it is undoubtedly foolish to sleep or rest under a coconut tree. In fact, according to Barss, one should avoid walking under coconut trees when possible. There is potential danger, and there are certainly records of injuries.

In fact, some resorts employ people to knock coconuts out of trees to keep vacationers safe. This is not always done, however, so visitors would have to ask a resort or hotel if they maintain this practice. To be safe, people should avoid the dangers of falling coconuts by staying well away from the trees and simply walk around them.

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anon939897
Post 13

"This could essentially be the equivalent of dropping a coconut, in many cases, off a ten-story building."

What is he smoking? That would require about a 100 fppt tall coconut tree. I've seen a lot of coconut trees in my time, but this has to be some kind of freaky tall coconut tree. A chainsaw would solve that problem in seconds.

candyquilt
Post 10

@anamur-- I'm in Thailand and I hear lots of stories about "falling coconut deaths" here. Some areas that are particularly rich in coconut trees have signs warning people not to sit under the trees. When there is a lot of wind, the ripe coconuts do start falling on their own.

The problem is that coconuts grow in hot temperatures and people, especially tourists, are always looking for a shade to sit under. A tourist did that a couple of years ago and got hit in the nose with a falling coconut. He was lucky for not getting struck in the head, he just had a broken nose.

serenesurface
Post 9

How do people in countries rich with coconut trees avoid death from falling coconuts? Most people don't stay in resorts.

donasmrs
Post 8

Has anyone seen the film Arundhati?

In the film, the heroine committed suicide by having coconuts broken on her skull. It was a terribly gory and scary scene. I never knew until then how hard coconuts are and what the results could be if a coconut breaks on your head.

anon257222
Post 6

I work at The Hilton in Hawaii and two people died this year under coconuts.

anon186822
Post 5

That's why I like living in England -- no chance of being hit with falling coconuts. While living in Thailand, my kitchen roof got smashed by a falling coconut during rainy season and my chip pan was directly under the new hole. The water hit the red hot oil, and it sounded like a thousand hissing cobras.

MissMuffet
Post 4

I'm going to weigh in here with a different opinion. I would bet that more people die from falling out of coconut trees than from being hit by one.

The health benefits of coconuts make it popular the world over, and a great source of income for countries where they grow. I'd like to see more attention given to protecting the workers who risk life and limb to collect them.

Bakersdozen
Post 3

@angelBraids - I see your point, and you're probably right. Maybe they should be recording this kind of information somewhere though, if it is a hazard to local people and visitors to tropical islands.

I remember see-ing a program on TV once about how the smallest object dropped from a great height can kill someone if it hits them in a particular way.

I don't know how much young coconuts weigh, but a large one would probably hit you with about a tonne of force. It's a horrible thought.

angelBraids
Post 2

There's one major problem I can see in trying to figure out how many people die from falling coconuts in a year.

Surely the doctor is more likely to write 'head injury' on the death certificate, rather than 'death caused by falling coconut'!

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