Segway CEO Dies 'Segwaying' Off Of a Cliff

Published: October 3rd 2010
in News » World

The Segway
Pic: wikipedia commons

Tragedy in England. A wealthy British businessman who owned the company that makes the two-wheeled Segway has been found dead in a river in northern England after apparently falling off a cliff in one of the vehicles, police said Monday.


Just like many scientists, innovators, explorers and other fine men killed by their own discoveries, or in the process of making them, the current owner of the Segway company, James (Jimi) Heselden, has died after enduring a nine meter drop into the river near the village of Boston Spa, located some 225 kilometers north of London.


Heselden, the 62 years old chairman of HESCO Bastion and one of the 400 richest people in the UK, was found at 11:40 a.m. on Sunday in the River Wharfe with his Segway "X2 Adventure" by his side. He was pronounced dead at the scene, West Yorkshire Police said. Police believe that it was simply a tragic accident, noting nothing suspicious about the man – he was worth $262m – falling to his death, indicating that they do not believe anyone else was involved.


The battery-powered Segway, which is stabilized by gyroscopes, was invented by Dean Kamen. The transporter relies on electricity to recharge its batteries and travels at speeds up to 20 kilometres per hour, the company says on its website. It is more protective of the environment than other scooters and automobiles, the company says, claiming it is 11 times more efficient than the average American car and also can be used indoors because it has no emissions.


Yet the lack of information about the circumstances surrounding Heselden's dramatic plunge to death prompted new questions over Segway's safety issues, concerns that have been raised before. Segways have been banned by some US cities but have also been embraced by other US police departments as a useful tool in community patrols.


In addition, many Segway blips and mishaps can be seen on YouTube, including George W. Bush who fell over when trying to get on. Another video shows British TV host Piers Morgan, set to replace Larry King on CNN, also falling off a Segway.


Despite the YouTube videos, many people were quick to defend the Segway's safety record. Mobile Entertainment, which has offered Segway tours, has had more than 40,000 customers ride the device without any serious injuries, owner Bill Neuenschwander told the Associated Press. "Nobody has gone off a river, nobody, I can tell you firsthand: I can't believe how safe this product is." He said the Segway was also easy to use off the road, on gravel, grass, hills or other steep inclines. "People get it right away," he added.


The accident is particularly unfortunate and bitter as his company had only just purchased Segway, Inc. with a few business partners this past January. Not much had changed in the business since the acquisition, although clearly they thought they could find a wider audience for the machine that was supposed to lead a revolution.


Heselden was a man of stature, a hard worker who left school at the age of 15 in order to work in the mines, but was fortunate enough to develop a successful blast wall system that replaced the sand bags once used to protect troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The barriers have also been used to fortify flood walls in places like New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina or to stop oil from fouling delicate marshes along the southern US coast during the massive BP oil spill.


Moreover, he became one of the UK's most generous philanthropists and had given away millions to charity, but didn't like to talk about it – some £23m ($36m) according to estimations, in the last few years alone.


Finally, while it seems likely Jimi Heselden will be remembered for an "ironic" death, that 10 months ago we could have just called tragic, let's not forget the other 61 years of his life, and how he lived them: with determination, intelligence, and generosity.

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