What Are The Absolute Worst Ways To Die? Five More Grim Answers From Science

There are bad ways to go, and then there's this.

James Felton

James Felton

James Felton

James Felton

Senior Staff Writer

James is a published author with four pop-history and science books to his name. He specializes in history, strange science, and anything out of the ordinary.

Senior Staff Writer

A caver squeezing through a tight passage. This caver is fine, others not so much.

Squeezing through tight passages in caves is a terrible idea. Image credit: Jackcrabb via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

A while back we brought you the absolute worst ways to die according to science, including a notorious diving bell accident and people's heads shattering after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

Well since then we've found a lot more terrible ways to die, so that you might try to avoid them. Enjoy.


Hisashi Ouchi radiation incident

A particularly grueling way to go is by radiation poisoning. Radiation poisoning happens when you receive a large amount of radiation in one large dose (acute), or over time (chronic).

With chronic doses of radiation, such as that experienced by American socialite Eben Byers, the biggest risk is of cancer. Byers drank Radithor for many years, a drink containing radium that was touted as a miracle cure. After several years of necking radiation juice like it was going out of fashion (which it was, because of cancer) he began to lose weight, get headaches, and many of his teeth began to fall out. He told his doctor that he'd lost "that toned-up feeling", which is a fairly mild way of putting that your bones have begun to crumble.

Before his death, lawyers trying to get radiation products regulated reported that Byers' "whole upper jaw, excepting two front teeth, and most of his lower jaw had been removed" and that "all the remaining bone tissue of his body was disintegrating, and holes were actually forming in his skull."

In acute doses of radiation, death usually comes quicker. Hisashi Ouchi, a worker on an experimental reactor in the Ibaraki Prefecture of Japan, suffered from such a fate. Ouchi and two co-workers had been asked to mix 2.4 kilograms (5.3 pounds) of enriched uranium with nitric acid, eschewing all safety procedures and mixing it in a stainless steel bucket.


The procedure, of course, went wrong.

“The uranium reached a critical mass at 10:35 am and set off an uncontrolled chain reaction that emitted radiation for almost 20 hours,” the BMJ reported.

“The three workers who carried out the operation reported seeing a blue flash – the Cerenkov radiation that is emitted during a critical reaction – before collapsing with nausea. They were rescued by colleagues and taken to a local hospital by emergency services.”

Ouchi suffered severe radiation burns over most of his body, as well as damage to his internal organs, causing him to lose a lot of blood. On day 58, he went into cardiac arrest due to low oxygen levels, but was revived by medics. With his immune system destroyed and his organs shutting down, Ouchi died 83 days after his initial radiation dose of another heart attack. Despite skin grafts and treatment, one of his colleagues also died 211 days after his dose, of multiple organ failure.

Hyena attack

If you're going to get eaten by a large predator, and we realize you probably won't have a lot of choice in the matter, try not to make it a hyena. 

Predators like lions will generally try to take down prey quickly, snapping their neck or suffocating it using their jaws on their prey's throat. This isn't out of concern for the animal, but to stop them fighting back. Hyenas have a much more brutal technique, resulting in the animal watching as they are torn apart and eaten.

"The method with the larger game is to chase a herd at a steady pace, though working individually rather than as a pack, keeping up sufficiently close for each pursuer to make repeated bites into legs and hindquarters until one of the hunted animals can take no more and sinks to the ground," author D.R Rosevear writes in The Carnivores of West Africa. "Whereupon the whole gathering of hyaenas breaks off the hunt, falls upon the victim and devours it, ripping up the belly and starting with the soft internal organs while the victim is still alive."


Attacks on humans are of course rare, so you can avoid this death by merely not being a zebra. But attacks do occasionally happen to humans, particularly children and the elderly.

Drowning in a toilet

Drowning, according to those who have experienced it and come back to tell the tale, generally involves panic and pain, followed by a feeling of peace and tranquility likely caused by a lack of oxygen.

"If you die drowning, I would say it's one of the more peaceful ways to go," one person, who of course hadn't tried any other death, is quoted as saying in a 2021 paper. "After the worst 15 seconds of your life of course."

You might not feel so peaceful and tranquil, of course, if the substance you are drowning in happens to be poop. This happened to a group of nobles in July 1184, when they met to resolve a conflict in St. Peter’s Church in Erfurt. The event's organizers did not take into account the weight involved in such a large gathering, where many of the attendees were in heavy chainmail. The floor gave way, plunging most of them into the cesspool below, and 60-100 people drowned in monk excrement and pee, with some being fortunate enough (in this instance) to merely die via falling infrastructure.

Your worms get cancer

Getting killed by cancer is terrible luck, but spare a thought for a man who died after his parasitic worms got cancer. In 2015, a man from Colombia died after his tapeworm got cancer, and the cancerous cells from the worm spread around his body. The 41-year-old, who was HIV-positive, began suffering fatigue and weight loss over several months, as well as a fever and cough.

CT scans showed that his lungs and liver were filled with tumors, of an unusual kind. They were about 10 times smaller than medics expected. Testing eventually showed that the cancerous cells contained Hymenolepis nana DNA, but the patient died 72 hours after admission.

"Human disease caused by parasite-derived cancer cells is a novel finding," his team wrote in a case report. "Multicellular parasites that live in host tissue generally possess cellular mechanisms for host tissue invasion and immune evasion; these mechanisms could potentially be co-opted during malignant transformation within the host. The host–parasite interaction that we report should stimulate deeper exploration of the relationships between infection and cancer."

The Nutty Putty cave incident

West of Utah Lake, there is a cave with the innocuous name of "Nutty Putty". The cave was named after the viscous clay on its walls, which oozed and felt a little like Silly Putty when it was pushed.


People, including scouts, liked to explore the cave with its narrow passages, and this led to several rescues. There were concerns about the cave before John Edward Jones and his brother Josh visited it in November 2009. The two were looking for one of the narrow passages in the cave system, known as the Birth Canal, which it was possible for people to squeeze through.

Unfortunately, the two got lost and found themselves in an un-mapped part of the cave. John spotted an opening, angled 70 degrees downwards, and began to crawl inside. He believed he had seen an opening on the other side, but was incorrect, and as he wormed his way in inch by inch, he became wedged in there with no way of getting himself back out the way he came. He tried to keep going forwards, breathing out to try to make his chest fit in the narrow gap, but as he breathed in again he became trapped for good.

For the next day, rescuers tried to retrieve him as he lay face down in the passage. The position he was in put great strain on his heart to pump blood out of the brain, which is usually assisted by gravity. Rescuers tried to get him out using a pulley system, but eventually it came loose and failed. After 27 hours, John died due to cardiac arrest. 

A week after his death, the caves were sealed for good, with John still inside, where he remains to this day.


If you or someone you know is struggling, help and support are available in the US at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 1-800-273-8255. In the UK and Ireland, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. International helplines can be found at  


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