11/07/2016 11:22 EST | Updated 11/07/2016 11:45 EST

Punkin Chunkin Contest Accident Leaves Woman With Critical Injuries

Police say parts of the contraption were blown into the air and struck her in the head and face.

BRIDGEVILLE, Del. — A 39-year-old woman suffered critical injuries Sunday after a cannon used to launch pumpkins into the air exploded at a large outdoor competition, Delaware State Police said.

A 56-year-old man was also hurt with non-life threatening injuries. Both had been struck by debris from the explosion.

The incident occurred at the Punkin Chunkin Contest in Bridgeville, which is about 48 kilometres (30 miles) south of Dover. The competition involves dozens of contestants launching pumpkins from homemade contraptions, many of which are air-powered with long cannons and hauled on the back of trucks.

Police are still investigating what happened. For unknown reasons, they said a trap door where pumpkins are loaded into the cannon "separated upon the launch of the pumpkin.'' The door and other parts were blown into the air before striking the woman in the head and face.

A woman suffered critical injuries and a man non-life threatening injuries after they were hit by debris from an exploding pumpkin cannon. (Photo: CBS 3 Philly/Screenshot)

Spectator David Aronson, 52, of Falls Church, Virginia, said he was about 23 metres (25 yards) behind the cannon when it exploded. He said a piece blew off the launcher that was the size of a car door.

Aronson said the woman appeared motionless as people gathered around her. A short time later, the competition's announcer asked the crowd to pray as she was flown to a hospital. The announcer then said the contest was over, Aronson said.

Organizers tried to take precautions: spectator

Aronson said organizers tried to take precautions by using nets and placing spectators 23 metres from the pumpkin launchers.

Master Cpl. Jeffrey Hale of the Delaware State Police said the woman and man who were injured were not among the crowd of spectators but among the launchers. He said they were observing the event but declined to elaborate.

Punkin Chunkin dates back to 1986. It had been cancelled for the past two years because of problems finding insurance.

In 2014, a Sussex County farmer had stopped making his property available for the contest because a volunteer was injured in an ATV accident and filed a lawsuit. The suit was later dismissed. Organizers for the 2016 contest said an insurance policy was in place to protect the landowner.