The ups and downs of helium
June 4, 2006 1:23 PM   Subscribe

LBJ and the helium filled astronaut. In 1964, the Skylab project wanted to send a phone call to the president. They had a hard time convincing the operators to put the call through. (g2 real audio link from npr) But today, 2 college students in florida discovered that helium can be dangerous.
posted by pyramid termite (24 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Sealab, not Skylab
posted by A189Nut at 1:29 PM on June 4, 2006

"This is not the kind of place where this happens,” said Torrance Saunders, 30, who moved here from Richmond, Va., a few months ago.

I'd like to find out where is the kind of place where this happens.

Or maybe I don't.....
posted by Afroblanco at 1:34 PM on June 4, 2006

Sometime later — Friday night or Saturday morning — after parking the Lexus ES300 Ackerman was driving near the complex’s clubhouse, the two apparently pulled the balloon out of the sky and squeezed themselves inside, where they died.

So it's 'dangerous' if you enter an all helium environment. Well duh...
posted by delmoi at 1:45 PM on June 4, 2006

Any inert gas has the possibility of use in a suicide. It's meant to be painless. No clutching or gasping you see. Avoid argon balloons as well if you want to live, less common but quite lethal. These guys were 'students' so it must have intentional.
posted by econous at 2:05 PM on June 4, 2006

“All upper-class here,” said Don Hassee, 40, a business consultant who has lived here a year. “You look around and it’s all trees and good neighbors.”

Them trees is classy!
posted by pitchblende at 2:13 PM on June 4, 2006

I don't know why they say he sounds like Mickey Mouse, he sounds more like a person who has inhaled helium (which he is), or Alvin and the Chipmunks. Mickey Mouse is a falsetto voice.
posted by Outlawyr at 2:15 PM on June 4, 2006

Last article: Euthanasia experts have advocated the use of helium in ending lives without physician assistance.

Hmm. You get the video recorder running and read your very serious "Goodbye, cruel world," statement in a chipmunk voice.
posted by pracowity at 2:15 PM on June 4, 2006

pracowty beat me to it. (in squeaky voice) Top of the World!
posted by Gungho at 2:20 PM on June 4, 2006

It makes me laugh when people die with squeaky voices. I also like it when people electrocute themselves during a little weekend home improvement. Oh how I laugh, oups I've shot my load.
posted by econous at 2:48 PM on June 4, 2006

pracowity - "Goodbye, cruel world," statement in a chipmunk voice.

Well, they might start laughing and decide not to take the long sleep...
posted by porpoise at 3:41 PM on June 4, 2006

Woah, the guy had a pretty hot girlfriend (looks like the girl he died with wasn't his gf)
posted by delmoi at 3:44 PM on June 4, 2006

So... What are the odds that this brings on a lawsuit from the relatives of the deceased?
posted by mr_roboto at 3:55 PM on June 4, 2006

I wonder if they even knew the balloon was full of helium? Since it had a big fan at the bottom, I can imagine them assuming it was being kept inflated by air pressure and was therefore full of air and safe to enter.

Asphyxiation due to a non-oxygen atmosphere can sneak up on you; the human suffocation response operates based on CO2 concentration, not O2 deprivation, so if you are in an atmosphere of something like nitrogen or helium, you will not feel like you are suffocating. You may notice O2 deprivation symptoms, but the cause may not be obvious, and you may not notice until you are in too bad of shape to escape.

It's worth noting that when people die due to inhaling helium (or other gases from tanks) it's usually due to strap-on face masks or blowing up their alveoli with pressurized gas. So, if you're going to breathe something that isn't air, make sure whatever you're using will fall off if you pass out and that it's at a safe pressure. I hear it's a lot safer to breathe helium out of balloons, but that's not medical advice or anything.
posted by Mitrovarr at 4:32 PM on June 4, 2006


Getting wasted and asphyxiating yourself in an advertising balloon.

Really embarrassing:

Afterwards, this shows up on your myspace:

DAM SARA< were all gonna miss u! dam babe , i cant believe this, im speech less, when i found out, u were suppose to come to my 21st b day this sat to get smashed, we had so many good times, sneekin over your house, i will see u day again your in a better place but, i guess i can say u just got there a little to early, ...................... /em>
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 4:42 PM on June 4, 2006

Candidates for next year's Darwin Awards?
posted by ericb at 4:52 PM on June 4, 2006

You don't have to be stupid to die from lack of oxygen. Being careless is sometimes enough. A young grad-student researcher at Lincoln Labs (a commercial branch of MIT) died some years ago from the boiloff of liquid helium he was using in a small room.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:31 PM on June 4, 2006

Asphyxiation due to a non-oxygen atmosphere can sneak up on you; the human suffocation response operates based on CO2 concentration, not O2 deprivation

Yup. My brother had a pretty spooky CO2 experience one time, when he was transporting in his car something or other packed in dry ice. The cooler was in the back seat, and he was driving along when he started feeling symptoms of shortness of breath and spots before his eyes. He stopped the car, got out and waited till he felt better, then drove to a nearby doctor's office (or emergency room, can't recall), got cardio tests & was ruled okay, probably just stress or something. Got back in car, drove off, symptoms started coming on again... and this time he put 2 and 2 together, rolled all the car windows down, and quickly felt much better.

The need for ventilation in this situation is not something that would be intuitively obvious to the average person, I'd say.
posted by Creosote at 8:18 PM on June 4, 2006

Asphyxiation due to a non-oxygen atmosphere can sneak up on you; the human suffocation response operates based on CO2 concentration, not O2 deprivation

Oh, yeah.

A friend of mine works doing research on MRI machines at Oxford. MRI use very large superconducting magnets, they're kept superconducting by liquid helium. If the magnet warms up, it stops superconducting, a dramatic event called a quench, which boils off the helium.

If the room isn't properly ventilated, the top half of the room's atmosphere becomes helium. This really sucks if you're tall. Worse, you don't notice, because the body is able to keep moving CO2 out of the bloodstream, thus, no suffocation response.
posted by eriko at 8:38 PM on June 4, 2006

“To lose two kids like this is beyond sad.”

So now, 21-year-olds are also "kids".

The "this sort of thing doesn't happen here" reminds me very much of what I say in a film lastnight. We saw "Chumscrubber". (good film, btw).

Sad story.
posted by Goofyy at 10:53 PM on June 4, 2006

Goofyy : 'kids' are anyone 15 years younger than you just like 'old' is 15 years older than you...
posted by twine42 at 5:13 AM on June 5, 2006

Creosote; it sounds like your brother could have been the inspiration for this.
posted by TedW at 9:26 AM on June 5, 2006

Sample entry at the guy's myspace page:

"Fun times in Drama! i never forgot it and never will forget it, good to see u at Red lobster too, Rest in Peace"

What do these people think they're writing, a yearbook message? It's certainly interesting to watch some folks deal with death in their own ways.
posted by ktoad at 5:08 PM on June 5, 2006

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