5 Of The Most Shocking Deaths To Happen At Burning Man Festivals

Aaron Joel Mitchell is not the first person to tragically die at the festival. 

By Emma Kerr

This year’s Burning Man — a festival held at Black Rock City in the middle of the Nevada desert, miles from hospitals, highways or cities — ended Monday on a somber note with its annual closing Temple Burn ceremony after a man ran into an earlier burning statue and died.

The event, in its 31st year, is known for intense sandstorms, hot desert climate, frequent drug use and principles including radical inclusion and self-reliance.

Aaron Joel Mitchell died Sunday at age 41 after running into a burning structure at the festival. He was trapped under the falling structure, preventing the on-scene firefighters from removing him from the flames immediately. Mitchell was then airlifted to a nearby hospital and pronounced dead from the burn wounds. He was not under the influence of alcohol, CNN reported, but officials are still awaiting a toxicology report.  

Event organizers of the Burning Man Project work with local law enforcement to create rules for the festival, create civic service objectives, and coordinate artists and large-scale creative projects — but the festival has a dark side. Each year, arrests, sexual assaults, reports of theft, and even fatalities occur as over 50,000 participants come together to create this make-shift desert city.

Here are some of the most tragic incidents in Burning Man history.

1. The First Reported Death

In 1997, 11 years after Burning man was founded in 1986, a San Francisco artist riding a motorcycle collided into a van at the festival. Michael Furey, 37, had been drinking, the LA Times reported, and was killed in the accident.

[Photo: Getty Images]

2. “Art Car”

One iconic element of the counterculture festival is the creation of large “art cars,” constructed by artists as a means of transportation and expression — another outlet for the creativity encouraged by organizers.

A woman fell out of a moving “art car” in 2003 and was caught under the wheels and killed. Katharine Lampman was just one of those involved in accidents during TK’s Burning Man, which included plane crashes and a truck accident, the Associated Press reported. Lampman was trying to get out of the car when she fell and died at around 3 a.m. in the Black Rock desert.

3. Jermaine Barley

Another man, Jermaine Barley, was found dead at Burning Man in 2007. SF Gate reported Barley hung himself in a tent during the festival, which he had attended for six years. Barley was a DJ who went by the name “Optic Orange,” and a memorial was held in his name in the days that followed as the news of his death swept through, shocking family and friends.

[Photo: Handout]

4. RV Fainting

New York DJ Adam Goldstone fainted in his RV at Burning Man in 2006 and was rushed to a Nevada hospital where he died, according to an obituary in The Villager. At age 37, Goldstone died of heart arrhythmia connected to a childhood condition.

He hit his head and started convulsing on his first day on the playa, a dust-covered basin where Burning Man takes place, and medics were unable to revive him.

[Photo: Getty Images, Handout]

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