HOUSTON -- A Canadian daredevil died Sunday from massive injuries suffered when he plummeted 180 feet in a barrel that cracked on a water tank only minutes after Evel Knievel tried to talk his fellow stuntman out of the dive before nearly 45,000 spectators in the Astrodome.
Karel Soucek, 37, of Hamilton, Ontario, billed as the 'last of the Niagara daredevils,' died at 12:05 a.m. CST Sunday at Ben Taub Hospital where he was taken with head, neck and chest injuries suffered in the accident at the 19th annual Thrill Show and Destruction Derby.
Soucek died of a crushed chest and abdomen and a skull fracture, according to an autopsy performed by the Harris County medical examiner's office.
Soucek's stunt was to plummet into a tank of water about 12 feet in diameter and 9 feet deep from the top of the Astrodome. He went over Niagara Falls in a similar wooden barrel July 2 and escaped with only cuts and bruises.
In an interview with the thrill show announcer played on a big screen television in the stadium before the stunt, Soucek said he was re-enacting his Niagara Falls feat.
'It was 180 feet over the falls and the same here in the dome,' he said. 'I'm as ready as I ever can be.'
He called the barrel 'an overgrown whiskey barrel, wooden with steel hoops' and said it was 'nothing special.'
Witneses said it appeared the barrel hit the rim of the tank and shattered after it was dropped shortly after 11 p.m. Saturday.
The crowd cheered when the barrel fell into the tank, then was quiet when it became obvious it had hit the side, rather than the center of the water.
It took workers about five minutes to get the barrel out of the water and another five to open the barrel, all of which was shown on closed circuit TV.
At one point, the announcer said, 'We need wire cutters.'
As soon as the barrel was opened, the 10 to 15 people working to free Soucek pulled back to give paramedics room to work. After five minutes, they lifted him onto a stretcher.
The announcer said, 'This is very serious, this is not, I repeat, not, part of the show.'
A crew member, Dave Fountain, said the stunt had been thoroughly tested before Christmas and two test runs had been conducted earlier Saturday. One barrel missed the tank in the tests. The second was successful.
He would not say how much Soucek was to be paid for the stunt.
Fellow stuntman Evel Knievel said he and others had asked Soucek not to attempt the dangerous stunt.
'He was a friend of mine,' Knievel said. 'He was a real daredevil.
Knievel said the stunt was the most dangerous he had ever seen attempted.
Spectator Greg Stanford, of Houston, said he had been coming to the show for seven years.
'Nothing like this has ever happened before, but when somebody has to die for people's money, I don't think it's worth it,' he said. 'It kind of ruins the night.'
Another spectator, Dale Demontigny, of Houston, said, 'You pay the money to come to see the excitement, so why not?
'He did put his own life on the line,' he said. 'I couldn't do it myself, but I'd pay $10 to see someone else do it, I know that.'