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Precision Crash

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In fiction, an object falling from space, from orbit, or from high in the sky - completely unaimed and uncontrolled - has a disproportionally high chance of crashing (or threatening to crash) into an important or heavily-populated target.

It doesn't matter how small the target is, or from how high up that object is falling, the Theory of Narrative Causality will work hard to ensure that it won't crash into just any uninteresting or remote spot. If the narrative demands it, the object will crash in the worst (or best) place possible. In the worst-case scenario, this might lead to Monumental Damage. In the best-case scenario, the crash might bring a character to the exact spot where he/she needs to be in order to advance the story.

This, of course, is in stark contrast to the actual odds for an object uncontrollably falling from that far up of actually hitting anything of value. Planets are gigantic, after all. The Earth in particular has over 70% of its surface covered by water, even further reducing the odds of hitting any dry land! And yet, since Writers Have No Sense of Scale, this sort of random precision occurs with alarming frequency throughout the various fictional universes, to the point where it can almost be expected to happen.

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This trope potentially applies to nearly any out-of-control object hurtling from a great distance towards any target. It has only two criteria:

  • The size of the target and the object's traveling distance lower the odds of the impact to "extremely unlikely".
  • The object was not aimed at the target, and is falling uncontrollably (or without sufficient control to choose a target).

If both criteria are met, that qualifies as a Precision Crash.

Note that this trope is very similar to Colony Drop, where an object is intentionally dropped from high up in order to hit a specific target. Precision Crash, however, deals only with objects that are not actively directed to strike their target.

This trope is a specific case of Contrived Coincidence, and often leads to It's a Small World After All. Closely related to Piano Drop, which is based more on the immaculate timing of the drop than on geographic improbabilities. Compare Monumental Battle, since major battles also seem to be narratively attracted to places of interest. Contrast with Stray Shots Strike Nothing.

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Examples:

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    Comic Books 
  • In a one-shot Planetary story, the world's first "space shuttle", launched in the victorian era, returns not just to earth but actually hits its launch pipe. Said pipe being the thing that fired it into space in the first place as a giant gun. Needless to say the pilots of what was in truth little more than a diving bell with some gaslamps inside it did not survive, likely having starved as their propulsionless craft floated around the space between Earth and the Moon for a few hundred years.
  • In one of Garth Ennis' War Stories, a bomber pilot noted for his hatred of Germans is shot down. While the plane heads straight for a civilian-filled building, the main character yells at the pilot for trying to pull a Taking You with Me... until he realizes the pilot is doing his best to avoid the building.

    Fan Works 
  • It is well known that Detective Conan runs into corpses on a regular weekly basis. However, one fanfic takes note of the canonical trend of bodies literally falling into his path when Heiji is around.
    When the cable that had been towing a car to the tourist trap up in the mountain snapped and flung a whole carload of people at their feet, Megure-keibu forbade them from being in his city at the same time, ever again. They laughed politely and pretended he hadn't meant it.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Armageddon, the incoming meteors hit several major cities. One large chunk precision-strikes the Eiffel Tower.
  • In Donnie Darko, a plane engine detaches and falls directly into the titular character's bedroom, setting the film's events in motion.
  • In Man of Steel, Superman and Zod's fight in Metropolis ends up bringing them into orbit, where they smack into a Wayne Enterprises satellite. Zod kicks it at Superman, and all three fall back to Earth, landing right in the middle of Metropolis again.
  • Monty Python's Life of Brian: While being chased by Romans, Brian falls off of a tall building and into the cockpit of a passing alien spacecraft. It goes into space and has a dogfight with another ship. The other ship hits it, and it crash lands right back in Jerusalem at the feet of a local who had seen it pass by in the first place.
    Passer-by: [to Brian] Oh, you lucky bastard.
  • In Sha Po Lang the villain Wong Po defeats Inspector Ma by throwing him out the window of his high-rise office. Tragically, Ma lands on the car containing Wong Po's family, killing his wife and child.
  • Star Wars:
    • A borderline example at the beginning of Revenge of the Sith: Grievous' cruiser falls out of the upper atmosphere, with barely any means of control (and massive chunks breaking off constantly, culminating in the ship breaking in half) and still manages to crash-land at an airstrip. It was not being piloted most of the way down, and didn't seem to have any real controls even after Anakin took the helm. Furthermore, it reaches that airstrip dead on.
    • In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker randomly crashes his X-Wing into a swamp on the planet Dagobah, only to find that he is a short distance from the home of Yoda whom he was hoping to find there. Of course, the Force is strong with Luke, and was likely leading him to that exact spot, or Yoda was doing it deliberately — note how Luke's navigation computer wonks out on his way in, but he has no trouble on the way out, and Luke doesn't seem to have the same problem in Return of the Jedi. In Heir to the Empire, Luke hangs a lampshade on it, and suspects that Yoda had done it on purpose.
  • Thor plays with the trope. The hammer ends up in the middle of the desert in New Mexico as The Stinger in Iron Man 2, nowhere important until Thor's film itself starts.

    Literature 

    Live-Action TV 
  • On Cosmos, both Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson had to remind audiences that although the Milky Way and Andromeda are inevitably going to collide, it is highly unlikely that any of the stars comprising them will actually collide with each other, since the stars are absolutely tiny compared to the empty spaces between them.
  • Dead Like Me kicks off with the main character, George, being killed by a toilet that detached from the Mir space station.
  • Doctor Who:
    • Subverted in "Aliens of London". An alien ship comes streaking in, smashes a wing on Big Ben, then belly-lands in the Thames. Later on we find out it was launched from elsewhere on Earth on a parabolic course and aimed at London, as part of a plot by the Slitheen to trick Earth into a nuclear war for their own profit.
    • In "Voyage of the Damned", the out-of-control spaceship Titanic almost crashes into Buckingham Palace before the Doctor manages to fix things.
  • Subverted in the Elementary episode "A Landmark Story", when a man is killed by a falling air conditioner window unit. The police chalk it up as a freak accident, but something about it irks Sherlock. It was a hit, done by a Professional Killer specializing in Making It Look Like an Accident.
  • On The Last Man on Earth, Mike finally decides to abandon the space station and return to Earth. He climbs into his escape pod, ejects from the station, aims for the Atlantic Ocean... and still manages to hit and sink an abandoned cruise ship.
  • Referenced, but averted in the Stargate SG-1 episode "Failsafe". Carter exposits how a 137-kilometer asteroid is on a collision course with Earth.
    Jack: I've seen this movie. It hits Paris.
    Sam: Actually sir, it will strike somewhere in the Arctic Circle. Probably Greenland or the Barents Sea.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
    • In the episode "Rocks and Shoals", the ship piloted by the main characters loses control and crashes within walking distance of another ship that had crashed there only a few days earlier.
    • A similar incident happened earlier in the series, in "Hippocratic Oath". Bashir and O'Brien crash their shuttle on some random planet, and not two minutes after exiting the shuttle are they surrounded by Jem'Hadar who had crashed there a short while earlier.
  • Played for laughs on Top Gear, where there is allegedly a company based next to their test track called Careless Air which specializes in transporting pianos by helicopter. Given their name, it's no surprise they drop a few. For some reason, the pianos seem to land solely on Morris Marinas.

    Puppet Shows 
  • Subverted and played straight in the 1966 film adapaptation of Thunderbirds, Thunderbirds Are Go with the Zero-X spacecraft. Subverted at the beginning when series Big Bad, the Hood, accidentally causes the ship to crash and it simply crashes into the open ocean and all crew members make it safely to the escape pod with time to spare. Played straight on the return trip when a random glitch causes massive system failures and the projected crash site of the spacecraft is now a small town in Florida.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Star Wars d20 rulebook says that it was A-wing pilot Arvel Crynyd's destiny to destroy the Executor in Return of the Jedi. In other words, A Wizard Did It.
  • Warhammer 40,000: During the civil war between the Space Wolves and Inquisition (referred to as the Months of Shame), the Space Wolves' fortress was damaged when several downed ships crashed into it. Then again, it's so large it actually reaches above the planet's atmosphere.

    Video Games 
  • In Mass Effect 2, the MSV Broken Arrow is overrun by Geth while in interplanetary space, so its captain decides to shut off the engine before he dies. The ship proceeds to fall towards a nearby planet, straight at the only colony on the surface of that planet.
  • StarCraft:
    • Averted in StarCraft I's Terran campaign, where General Duke's battlecruiser crashes in the middle of nowhere but is quickly surrounded by Zerg bases.
    • In the opening cutscene for StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, a battlecruiser is seen crashing into a city. Less random than most examples, since Korhal is a City Planet.
  • UFOs shot down by your Interceptors in XCOM: Enemy Unknown will always crash-land in the wilderness, inverting this trope. In the Enemy Within expansion they might end up in populated areas, but only in a Conveniently Empty Building.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • The sheer number of alien craft, rogue government missiles, 'discarded' oddities, and other bizarre nonsense that crashes not just in the Middle of Nowhere but specifically within walking distance (or even directly on top) of the home of Courage the Cowardly Dog defies probability. Then again, that little "farm" is an almost literal Weirdness Magnet.
  • In an episode of Eek! The Cat, the Mission Control of an out-of-control rocket calculates that the rocket will likely crash in a given deserted, isolated, unpopulated area... And another immediately point out that there's an ammunitions depot right at that spot, chosen precisely for its isolation. Cue panic.
  • Unsurprisingly, this occurs incredibly often in Futurama, with the target usually being either New New York City or — even more precisely — the Planet Express building. The first example is probably in the episode "A Big Piece of Garbage", where the titular ball flies around the solar system for almost a thousand years, then comes right back towards New New York.
  • In the pilot and first episode of Megas XLR, midway into the fight against the Glorft, Coop fires a missile that heads toward his opponent but then flies straight up and into the broadcast satellite of a thinly veiled MTV parody. At the end of the episode, as Megas seems outmatched by the Glorft's ridiculously huge Combining Mecha, the satellite falls directly on top of the Glorft, defeating them.
  • Played for laughs in The Simpsons episode "Bart's Comet": Springfield is hit by a comet; fortunately most of it burns up in the atmosphere so only a small rock lands. It scores a direct hit on Ned Flanders' bomb shelter, which everyone had left mere minutes before.
  • South Park: Kenny is killed in the opening scene of the episode "Pinkeye", when the space station Mir crashes into him.
  • Played for laughs in one SpongeBob SquarePants episode, in Goo Lagoon's anchor throwing contest, the contestants' thrown anchors always land on the referee no matter where he stands. Most ridiculous is when Sandy throws hers, we then see the anchor's Shadow of Impending Doom keep following the referee as he repeatedly moves away.

    Real Life 
  • On July 28, 1945, a B-25 bomber flying through heavy fog crashed into the Empire State building in New York City. The bomber was attempting to land at nearby Newark Airport but the pilot became disoriented due to the lack of visibility.
  • The various news media occasionally get riled up whenever a space agency announces that one of their satellites or orbital objects is about to make re-entry, even when the scientists calculate that the landing will take place far away from everything. Then again, occasionally the scientists themselves are not 100% sure where the object will hit.
  • Also applies to every attempt at scare-mongering about large asteroids passing within "close proximity" to Earth. People rarely realize that the entire Earth is itself a tiny target, when compared to the vastness of space, and that "close proximity" still puts it at a distance of hundreds of thousands of miles. And while any asteroid hitting earth would have adverse effects, it's worth noting the fact that Earth is 70% water, and only a tiny fraction of the land (3%) is covered with cites, so the chances of scoring a direct hit on a large population center are pretty slim.
  • There are three documented cases of meteorites striking a human being, which is an example of this trope due to the incredibly low odds of that happening at all. There may be many humans on the planet, and we have been recording history for a quite some time, but even 7 billion humans cover an incredibly small area of the planet's surface, making the odds astronomical.
  • A strange land-based case occurred in Libya in 1973, when a drunk driver in a truck managed to collide with a tree — the only tree within a 400-kilometer radius.
  • Commotio cordis occurs when a blow strong enough strikes a small region of the chest between the 2nd and 4th ribs during a 15-millisecond window in the heartbeat cycle, causing the heart rhythm to be disrupted and cardiac arrest. It would be near impossible to induce it through deliberate action due to the timing involved, but it has happened to hockey, lacrossenote  and baseball players who have been hit with balls while playing those sports. Lacrosse players have died from this.


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