Flying Dutchman’s Story Crashes And Burns
March 22, 2012

Flying Dutchman’s Story Crashes And Burns

Peter Suciu for

Move over Balloon Boy, there is a new hoaxster who has taken flight. This week the media — including this reporter — was duped into believing that Jarno Smeets had achieved flight with his wings made from para-sails and power-assisted by a mobile phone and Nintendo Wii controller.

However Smeets´ story seems to be full of more holes than a downed balloon.

Late yesterday Wired Magazine reported that it could not confirm Smeets´ education or employment information as posted on Facebook and LinkedIn. Among Smeets´ claims is that he worked at Pailton Steering Systems from 2008 to 2010, but the group managing director reportedly said there is no record of anyone by such a name being employed at the firm at any point.

Additionally, if Smeets did attend Coventry University as he claims, then he did so as Alexandra Smeets, the only Smeets to attend from 1986 to the present.

If this is part of an elaborate hoax, Smeets is not the first either to claim taking flight whilst his feet were firmly on the ground. While the most famous is the October 2009 “Balloon Boy hoax,” in which authorities in Colorado believe six-year-old Falcon Heene was in a homemade balloon that accidentally floated away. However, this was just a publicity stunt engineered by his parents Richard and Mayumi Heene, and Falcon had been hiding the entire time.

There is also the largely forgotten — except by literary buffs — of the Edgar Allen Poe “The Balloon Hoax,” which was originally presented as a news story in 1844 for The Sun newspaper in New York, which claimed of a trans-Atlantic Ocean crossing in three days in a gas balloon. While balloon crossings would be commonplace with such airships as the Hindenburg that would not be for another 90 years.

What Smeets also has in common with these previous hoaxes is that the stories all fell back to the ground very quickly. In Smeets case his “evidence” attempting to prove his flight ended up working against him.

Wired reported the video footage showed signs of editing, and that it was not continuous video from take-off to landing. Additionally web blog Gizmodo suggested that CGI might have even been used.

All this is enough to conjure up the story from Greek mythology of Icarus, son of Daedalus, who tries to escape from his prison on Crete on wings made of feathers and wax. Icarus, ignoring the warnings, flew too close to the sun, which melted the wings, and fell into the sea and drowned. Smeets might have drowned but his credibility has all but has crashed and burned.