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Unbeknownst to them, the helmet carried a virus which causes those who contract the virus to die in a very strange way. Months after, Whalen, Adam Cross and Tony Diaz decided to polish the helmet. Whalen contracted the virus.
Frank Whalen succumbed to the virus while in his barn. He had locked the barn doors and had a shotgun with him, which Phil Coulson initially supposed was for protection against someone trying to attack Whalen. It is unclear whether Whalen also thought he would be attacked or if he was going to shoot himself to stop the "humming" symptom of the virus. After the virus killed Whalen, it caused his body to float in the air.