Tragedy struck at the Open Highland Games in the Netherlands on Sunday when a 22lb hammer thrown by a competitor killed a 65-year-old visitor to Geldrop Castle where the sporting event was being held.
Witnesses said the man was not a visitor watching the action in the hammer throw event, and was instead walking through the castle gardens at the site near Eindhoven.
While the elderly gentleman was enjoying his stroll, however, a 22lb metal ball “flew over a hedge” and killed him instantly when it struck him on the other side.
“The pendulum dropped, we saw the ball go over the hedge, and then we heard a woman screaming very loudly,” explained a witness to local news site Omroep Brabant.
“It wasn’t a spectator… so he didn’t see the ball coming at all,” they added.
As the event was quickly halted, emergency services including a trauma helicopter arrived at the scene but sadly could not save the victim.
“When things went wrong, some people from the organization immediately ran to the victim. They started CPR,” the same witness explained, as another gave a separate account of the tragedy to the same outlet.
“We weren’t allowed to stand where the ball landed [on the event’s field],” they said. “But people could walk behind the hedge. At the bottom it was open, so we saw their feet and strollers, which they walked past. We were amazed at that beforehand.”
“The boy who swung the ball was completely upset. He was not a rookie, but really a top player, who had already participated in big competitions before,” it was added.
Also to Omroep Brabant, the chairman of event organizers Foundation Village Marketing Geldrop-Mierlo, Adri Geerts, said they were “flabbergasted that something like this can happen.”
“You don’t expect it, it’s the biggest disaster that can happen to all of us. We’re devastated,” Geerts stated.
“I felt super excited about the event and all the people who were there. That someone then dies due to an accident, that makes me super sad,” he lamented, while also explaining that the distraught competitors are receiving victim support help.
As for the contestant that threw the hammer, Geerts said he hadn’t spoken to him personally but knew that he was “completely beside himself.”
“This should never have happened to him,” stressed Geerts.
“They are players who practice this game internationally at a high level and with a lot of experience and are extremely experienced, but then apparently an accident can happen.”
The throwing event is one of the most traditional parts of the Highland Games, which have Scottish origins, and sees competitors swing a “hammer” near their heads and then throw it as far as they are able to.
The hammer consists of a wooden pole that has a metal ball typically weighing 22lb [9.979 kg] for men and 16lb [7.257kg] for women attached to it, which helps explain why the tragedy occurred.