Riot erupts at Lima, Peru soccer match, killing hundreds

Year
1964
Month Day
May 24

A referee’s call in a soccer match between Peru and Argentina sparks a riot on May 24, 1964. More than 300 fans were killed and another 500 people were injured in the violent melee that followed at National Stadium in Lima, Peru.

The match was a qualifier for the 1964 Olympics and the Peruvian fans were fiercely cheering on their team with only a few minutes left in a close game. When the referee disallowed an apparent goal for Peru, the stadium went wild. The resulting panic and crowd-control measures taken caused stampedes in which people were crushed and killed.

The extent of this disaster has only been surpassed once. In 1982, 340 people died at a match in Moscow when a late goal caused fans who had exited the game to attempt to return suddenly. Meanwhile, police were forcing people to exit; those caught in the middle were crushed.

Large-scale soccer disasters date back to 1946 when 33 fans were crushed to death in Bolton, England, when overcrowded conditions caused a barrier to collapse onto fans.

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Gas leak kills 23 at plastics factory

Year
1989
Month Day
October 23

On October 23, 1989, 23 people die in a series of explosions sparked by an ethylene leak at a factory in Pasadena, Texas. The blasts, which took place at a Phillips Petroleum Company plant, were caused by inadequate safety procedures.

A polyethylene reactor at the Phillips 66 Chemical Complex in Pasadena created chemical compounds necessary for the production of plastics. The plant produced millions of pounds of plastics daily for use in toys and containers.

In an effort to cut costs, Phillips subcontracted much of the necessary maintenance work in the plant. Fish Engineering and Construction, the primary subcontractor, did not enjoy a stellar reputation even prior to the October 23 disaster. In August, a Fish employee opened gas piping for maintenance without isolating the line. This caused flammable solvents and gas to be sent into a work area where they ignited, killing one worker and injuring four others.

Fish was undertaking maintenance work on the plant’s polyethylene reactor on October 23 when, once again, problems arose. A valve was not secured properly, and at approximately 1 p.m., 85,000 pounds of highly flammable ethylene-isobutane gas were released into the plant. There were no detectors or warning systems in place to give notice of the impending disaster. Within two minutes, the large gas cloud ignited with the power of two-and-a-half tons of dynamite.

The explosion could be heard for miles in every direction and the resulting fireball was visible at least 15 miles away. Twenty-three workers at Phillips were killed and another 130 were seriously injured as the first explosion set off a chain reaction of blasts.

A subsequent investigation found that although the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) had cited Phillips for several serious safety violations in previous years, it had not done a comprehensive inspection of the plant since 1975. Other testimony revealed that inadequate safety procedures used during the maintenance process had left the plant vulnerable to disaster. However, no criminal charges were filed against Phillips or its managers.

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Truck explosion kills 3,000 in Afghanistan

Year
1982
Month Day
November 02

On November 2, 1982, a truck explodes in the Salang Tunnel in Afghanistan, killing an estimated 3,000 people, mostly Soviet soldiers traveling to Kabul.

The Soviet Union’s military foray into Afghanistan was disastrous by nearly every measure, but perhaps the worst single incident was the Salang Tunnel explosion in 1982. A long army convoy was traveling from Russia to Kabul through the border city of Hairotum. The route took the convoy through the Salang Tunnel, which is 1.7 miles long, 25 feet high and approximately 17 feet wide. The tunnel, one of the world’s highest at an altitude of 11,000 feet, was built by the Soviets in the 1970s.

The Soviet army kept a tight lid on the story, but it is believed that an army vehicle collided with a fuel truck midway through the long tunnel. About 30 buses carrying soldiers were immediately blown up in the resulting explosion. Fire in the tunnel spread quickly as survivors began to panic. Believing the explosion to be part of an attack, the military stationed at both ends of the tunnel stopped traffic from exiting. As cars idled in the tunnel, the levels of carbon monoxide in the air increased drastically and the fire continued to spread. Exacerbating the situation, the tunnel’s ventilation system had broken down a couple of days earlier, resulting in further casualties from burns and carbon monoxide poisoning.

It took several days for workers to reach all the bodies in the tunnel. Because the Soviet army limited the information released about the disaster, the full extent of the tragedy may never be known.

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Great Boston Molasses Flood


Year
1919
Month Day
January 15

Fiery hot molasses floods the streets of Boston on January 15, 1919, killing 21 people and injuring scores of others. The molasses burst from a huge tank at the United States Industrial Alcohol Company building in the heart of the city.

LISTEN NOW: What happened this week in history? Find out on the brand new podcast, HISTORY This Week. Episode 2: The Great Boston Molasses Flood

The United States Industrial Alcohol building was located on Commercial Street near North End Park in Boston. It was close to lunch time on January 15 and Boston was experiencing some unseasonably warm weather as workers were loading freight-train cars within the large building. Next to the workers was a 58-foot-high tank filled with 2.5 million gallons of crude molasses.

Suddenly, the bolts holding the bottom of the tank exploded, shooting out like bullets, and the hot molasses rushed out. An eight-foot-high wave of molasses swept away the freight cars and caved in the building’s doors and windows. The few workers in the building’s cellar had no chance as the liquid poured down and overwhelmed them.

The huge quantity of molasses then flowed into the street outside. It literally knocked over the local firehouse and then pushed over the support beams for the elevated train line. The hot and sticky substance then drowned and burned five workers at the Public Works Department. In all, 21 people and dozens of horses were killed in the flood. It took weeks to clean the molasses from the streets of Boston.

This disaster also produced an epic court battle, as more than 100 lawsuits were filed against the United States Industrial Alcohol Company. After a six-year-investigation that involved 3,000 witnesses and 45,000 pages of testimony, a special auditor finally determined that the company was at fault because the tank used had not been strong enough to hold the molasses. Nearly $1 million was paid in settlement of the claims.

READ MORE: Why the Great Molasses Flood Was So Deadly

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The Flint water crisis begins

Year
2014
Month Day
April 25

On April 25, 2014 officials from Flint, Michigan switched the city’s water supply to the Flint River as a cost-cutting measure for the struggling city. In doing so, they unwittingly introduced lead-poisoned water into homes, in what would become a massive public-health crisis.

The problem started when officials decided to switch the water supply from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to the Karegnondi Water Authority to save money for the economically struggling city. Before that connection could be built, the city turned to the Flint River as a temporary water source. By May, residents were complaining that the brown water flowing into their homes looked and smelled weird, but the largely majority-African American and poor citizens went ignored by officials. In August, E.coli and coliform bacteria were detected in Flint’s water.

From there, a leaked memo from the Environmental Protection Agency, and several independent studies, warned of dangerous levels of lead in the water. Although the city switched their water supply back in October 2015, the damage to the pipes had already been done. After months of denial and dodging, the mayor, governor and president declared a state of emergency in Flint. Free water bottles and filters were provided to residents to help them cope.

Unfortunately, the crisis didn’t end there for Flint residents. Over a year later, people were still using bottled water to cook, drink and even brush their teeth. The city’s recovery has been slow, as it works to replace 30,000 lead pipes. In 2017, reports showed that the water in most homes was generally safe, but many residents still don’t trust what comes out of their tap.

In the aftermath, residents filed a class-action lawsuit, and 15 state and city leaders faced criminal charges

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Malaysia Airlines flight vanishes with more than 200 people aboard


Year
2014
Month Day
March 08

On March 8, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members, loses contact with air traffic control less than an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur then veers off course and disappears. Most of the plane, and everyone on board, are never seen again.

The plane departed from Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 12:41 a.m. and was scheduled to arrive in Beijing Capital International Airport at 6:30 a.m. local time. However, at 1:07 a.m., the aircraft’s last automated position report was sent, and at 1:19 a.m. what turned out to be the final voice transmission from the cockpit of the doomed jetliner was relayed to air traffic controllers: “Good night Malaysian three seven zero,” a message that suggested nothing out of the ordinary. About an hour after Flight 370 was scheduled to land in Beijing, Malaysia Airlines announced it was missing. Prior to the aircraft’s mysterious disappearance, it had been flying seemingly without incident. There were no distress signals from the plane or reports of bad weather or technical problems.

The ensuing search for Flight 370 initially was centered on the Gulf of Thailand, where the plane was traveling when radar contact was lost. Investigators looked into the possibility of terrorist involvement in the plane’s disappearance after it was discovered that two passengers had been using stolen passports; however, this theory, at least in relation to the two men, soon was determined to be unlikely. (The people onboard Flight 370 represented 15 nations, with more than half the passengers from China and three from the United States) Then, on March 15, investigators said that satellite transmissions indicated Flight 370 had turned sharply off its assigned course and flown west over the Indian Ocean, operating on its own for five hours or more. On March 24, Malaysia’s prime minister announced the flight was presumed lost somewhere in the Indian Ocean, with no survivors. As the search for the aircraft continued, with more than two dozen nations, including the United States, participating in the effort, the mystery of how a commercial jetliner could vanish without a trace received global media attention.

In June 2014, Australian officials involved in the investigation said radar records suggested Flight 370 likely was flying on autopilot for hours before it ran out of fuel and crashed into the southern Indian Ocean. The officials did not publicly speculate about who put the plane on autopilot after it veered off course or why, although they did indicate it was possible the crew and passengers had become unresponsive due to hypoxia, or oxygen loss, sometime before the plane crashed. No explanation for what might have caused the oxygen deprivation was provided by the officials. 

Meanwhile, other authorities suggested one of the pilots of Flight 370 could have deliberately flown the aircraft into the Indian Ocean on a suicide mission, although there was no conclusive evidence to support this theory.

Throughout 2015 and 2016, debris from the aircraft washed ashore on the western Indian Ocean, but the fate of Flight 370 remains a mystery.

On July 17, 2014, four months after Flight 370 vanished, tragedy struck again for Malaysia Airlines, when one of its planes was shot down over eastern Ukraine near the Russian border. All 298 people aboard the aircraft, also a Boeing 777, perished. European and American officials believe Flight 17, which took off from Amsterdam and was en route to Kuala Lumpur, was downed by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile fired from territory controlled by Russian-backed separatists battling the Ukrainian government. The rebel leaders and President Vladimir Putin of Russia denied any responsibility for the incident.

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Massive oil spill begins in Gulf of Mexico

Year
2010
Month Day
April 20

April 20, 2010: An explosion and fire aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico, approximately 50 miles off the Louisiana coast, kills 11 people and triggers the largest offshore oil spill in American history. The rig had been in the final phases of drilling an exploratory well for BP, the British oil giant. By the time the well was capped three months later, an estimated 4.9 million barrels (or around 206 million gallons) of crude oil had poured into the Gulf.

The disaster began when a surge of natural gas from the well shot up a riser pipe to the rig’s platform, where it set off a series of explosions and a massive blaze. Of the 126 people on board the nearly 400-foot-long Deepwater Horizon, 11 workers perished and 17 others were seriously injured. The fire burned for more than a day before the Deepwater Horizon, constructed for $350 million in 2001, sank on April 22 in some 5,000 feet of water.

Before evacuating the Deepwater Horizon, crew members tried unsuccessfully to activate a safety device called a blowout preventer, which was designed to shut off the flow of oil from the well in an emergency. Over the next three months, a variety of techniques were tried in an effort to plug the hemorrhaging well, which was spewing thousands of barrels of oil into the Gulf each day. Finally, on July 15, BP announced the well had been temporarily capped, and on September 19, after cement was injected into the well to permanently seal it, the federal government declared the well dead. By that point, however, oil from the spill had reached coastal areas of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, where it would inflict a heavy toll on the region’s economy, particularly the fishing and tourism industries, and wildlife. Scientists say the full extent of the environmental damage could take decades to assess.

In January 2011, a national investigative commission released a report concluding the Deepwater Horizon disaster was “foreseeable and preventable” and the result of “human error, engineering mistakes and management failures,” along with ineffective government regulation. In November 2012, BP agreed to plead guilty to 14 criminal charges brought against it by the U.S. Justice Department, and pay $4.5 billion in fines. Additionally, the Justice Department charged two BP managers who supervised testing on the well with manslaughter, and another company executive with making false statements about the size of the spill. In July 2015, BP agreed to pay $18.7 billion in fines. 

PLUS: Listen to Obama on the BP Oil Spill 

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Chilean miners are rescued after 69 days underground

Year
2010
Month Day
October 13

On October 13, 2010, the last of 33 miners trapped nearly half a mile underground for more than two months at a caved-in mine in northern Chile, are rescued. The miners survived longer than anyone else trapped underground in recorded history.

The miners’ ordeal began on August 5, 2010, when the San Jose gold and copper mine where they were working, some 500 miles north of the Chilean capital city of Santiago, collapsed. The 33 men moved to an underground emergency shelter area, where they discovered just several days’ worth of food rations. As their situation grew more desperate over the next 17 days, the miners, uncertain if anyone would find them, considered suicide and cannibalism. Then, on August 22, a drill sent by rescuers broke through to the area where the miners were located, and the men sent back up a note saying, “We are fine in the refuge, the 33.” Food, water, letters, medicine and other supplies were soon delivered to the miners via a narrow bore hole. Video cameras were also sent down, making it possible for rescuers to see the men and the hot, humid space in which they were entombed. As engineering and mining experts from around the world collaborated on the long, complex process of devising a way to bring the 33 men up to the surface, the miners maintained a system of jobs and routines in order to keep up morale.

Rescuers eventually drilled and reinforced an escape shaft wide enough to extract the men, one by one. (Employees of a Pennsylvania-based drilling-tool company played a role in drilling the rescue shaft.) On October 12, the first of the miners was raised to the surface in a narrow, 13-foot-tall capsule painted white, blue and red, the colors of the Chilean flag. The approximately 2,000-foot ascent to the surface in the capsule took around 15 minutes for each man.

The miners were greeted by a cheering crowd that included Chile’s president, Sebastian Pinera; media from around the world; and friends and relatives, many of whom had been camped at the base of the mine in the Atacama Desert for months. Millions of people around the globe watched the rescue on live TV. Less than 24 hours after the operation began, all 33 of the miners, who ranged in age from 19 to 63, had been safely rescued. Almost all the men were in good health, and each of them sported dark glasses to protect their eyes after being in a dimly lit space for so long.

The rescued miners were later honored with trips to a variety of destinations, including England, Israel and Florida’s Walt Disney World, where a parade was held in their honor.

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U.S. figure skating team killed in plane crash


Year
1961
Month Day
February 15

On February 15, 1961, the entire 18-member U.S. figure skating team is killed in a plane crash in Berg-Kampenhout, Belgium. The team was on its way to the 1961 World Figure Skating Championships in Prague, Czechoslovakia.

Among those killed in the crash was 16-year-old Laurence Owen, who had won the U.S. Figure Skating Championship in the ladies’ division the previous month. She was featured on the February 13, 1961, cover of Sports Illustrated, which called her the “most exciting U.S. skater.” Bradley Long, the 1961 U.S. men’s champion, also perished in the crash, as did Maribel Owen (Laurence’s sister) and Dudley Richards, the 1961 U.S. pairs champions, and Diane Sherbloom and Larry Pierce, the 1961 U.S. ice dancing champions. Also killed was 49-year-old Maribel Vinson-Owen, a nine-time U.S. ladies’ champion and 1932 Olympic bronze medalist, who coached scores of skaters, including her daughters Maribel and Laurence. Vinson-Owen also coached Frank Carroll, who went on to coach the 2010 men’s Olympic gold medalist Evan Lysacek and nine-time U.S. champion Michelle Kwan.

In addition to the skaters, 16 people accompanying them, including family, friends, coaches and officials, were killed. The other 38 passengers and crew aboard Sabena Flight 548, which left New York on the night of February 14, also died when the plane went down around 10 a.m. in clear weather while attempting to make a scheduled stopover landing at the Belgian National Airport in Brussels. One person on the ground, a farmer working in the field where the Boeing 707 crashed in Berg-Kampenhout, several miles from the airport, was killed by some shrapnel. Investigators were unable to determine the exact cause of the crash, although mechanical difficulties were suspected.

The tragedy devastated the U.S. figure skating program and meant the loss of the country’s top skating talent. Prior to the crash, the U.S. had won the men’s gold medal at every Olympics since 1948 (when Dick Button became the first American man to do so), while U.S. women had claimed Olympic gold in 1956 and 1960. After the crash, an American woman (Peggy Fleming) would not capture Olympic gold until 1968, while a U.S. man (Scott Hamilton) would not do so until 1984.

The incident was the worst air disaster involving a U.S. sports team until November 1970, when 37 players on the Marshall University football team were killed in a plane crash in West Virginia.

Shortly after the 1961 crash, the U.S. Figure Skating Memorial Fund was established; to date, it has provided financial assistance to thousands of elite American skaters. In 2011, the 50th anniversary of the tragedy, the 18 members of the 1961 figure skating team, along with the 16 people traveling with them to Prague, were inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

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The first railroad accident

Year
1832
Month Day
July 25

The first recorded railroad accident in U.S. history occurs when four people are thrown off a vacant car on the Granite Railway near Quincy, Massachusetts. The victims had been invited to view the process of transporting large and weighty loads of stone when a cable on a vacant car snapped on the return trip, throwing them off the train and over a 34-foot cliff. One man was killed and the others were seriously injured.

The acceptance of railroads came quickly in the 1830s, and by 1840 the nation had almost 3,000 miles of railway, greater than the combined European total of only 1,800 miles. The railroad network expanded quickly in the years before the Civil War, and by 1860 the American railroad system had become a national network of some 30,000 miles. Nine years later, transcontinental railroad service became possible for the first time.

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