The Daily Press of Victorville reported that Hughes died near Barstow at around 1:52 p.m. near Highway 247. Later, a publicist for Hughes, Darren Schuster, confirmed to the Los Angeles Times that he was killed during the rocket launch.
The crash was captured on video, and he failed to activate a parachute before the crash, said a witness.
“Everyone was stunned. They didn’t know what to do,” Justin Chapman, a freelance writer who saw the launch, told the LA Times. “He landed about a half a mile away from the launch pad.”
Chapman said that he believes Hughes went unconscious during the launch, without elaborating. “The parachute ripped off at launch,” he told the paper. “So the rocket went straight up in an arc and came straight down.”
According to a post on Space.com, Hughes was trying to reach 5,000 feet on his steam-powered rocket. The launch was going to be featured in “Homemade Astronauts,” which would be broadcast on the Science Channel.
An official with the San Bernardino County coroner’s office told the LA Times that an investigation is underway, adding that they “have no facts at this point.”
Hughes had previously told The Associated Press that he believes the Earth is flat “like a Frisbee” and wanted to fly to space to prove it, but Shuster told the paper that he’s not so sure.
“I don’t think he believed it,” Shuster remarked after his death, referring to the flat Earth claim. “He did have some governmental conspiracy theories. But don’t confuse it with that flat Earth thing. That was a PR stunt we dreamed up.”