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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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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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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Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and “The Big Bopper” die in a plane crash


Year
1959
Month Day
February 03

Rising American rock stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson are killed when their chartered Beechcraft Bonanza plane crashes in Iowa a few minutes after takeoff from Mason City on a flight headed for Moorehead, Minnesota. Investigators blamed the crash on bad weather and pilot error. Holly and his band, the Crickets, had just scored a No. 1 hit with “That’ll Be the Day.”

After mechanical difficulties with the tour bus, Holly had chartered a plane for his band to fly between stops on the Winter Dance Party Tour. However, Richardson, who had the flu, convinced Holly’s band member Waylon Jennings to give up his seat, and Ritchie Valens won a coin toss for another seat on the plane.

Holly, born Charles Holley in Lubbock, Texas, and just 22 when he died, began singing country music with high school friends before switching to rock and roll after opening for various performers, including Elvis Presley. By the mid-1950s, Holly and his band had a regular radio show and toured internationally, playing hits like “Peggy Sue,” “Oh, Boy!,” “Maybe Baby” and “Early in the Morning.” Holly wrote all his own songs, many of which were released after his death and influenced such artists as Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney.

Another crash victim, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, 28, started out as a disk jockey in Texas and later began writing songs. Richardson’s most famous recording was the rockabilly “Chantilly Lace,” which made the Top 10. He developed a stage show based on his radio persona, “The Big Bopper.”

The third crash victim was Ritchie Valens, born Richard Valenzuela in a suburb of Los  Angeles, who was only 17 when the plane went down but had already scored hits with “Come On, Let’s Go,” “Donna” and “La Bamba,” an upbeat number based on a traditional Mexican wedding song (though Valens barely spoke Spanish). In 1987, Valens’ life was portrayed in the movie La Bamba, and the title song, performed by Los Lobos, became a No. 1 hit. Valens was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.

Singer Don McLean memorialized Holly, Valens and Richardson in the 1972 No. 1 hit “American Pie,” which refers to February 3, 1959 as “the day the music died.”

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Fire engulfs circus big top in Hartford, killing 167

Year
1944
Month Day
July 06

In Hartford, Connecticut, a fire breaks out under the big top of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum Bailey Circus, killing 167 people and injuring 682. Two-thirds of those who perished were children. The cause of the fire was unknown, but it spread at incredible speed, racing up the canvas of the circus tent. Scarcely before the 8,000 spectators inside the big top could react, patches of burning canvas began falling on them from above, and a stampede for the exits began. Many were trapped under fallen canvas, but most were able to rip through it and escape. However, after the tent’s ropes burned and its poles gave way, the whole burning big top came crashing down, consuming those who remained inside. Within 10 minutes it was over, and some 100 children and 60 of their adult escorts were dead or dying.

An investigation revealed that the tent had undergone a treatment with flammable paraffin thinned with three parts of gasoline to make it waterproof. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus eventually agreed to pay $5 million in compensation, and several of the organizers were convicted on manslaughter charges. In 1950, in a late development in the case, Robert D. Segee of Circleville, Ohio, confessed to starting the Hartford circus fire. Segee claimed that he had been an arsonist since the age of six and that an apparition of an Indian on a flaming horse often visited him and urged him to set fires. In November 1950, Segee was sentenced to two consecutive terms of 22 years in prison, the maximum penalty in Ohio at the time.

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The Great Baltimore Fire begins


Year
1904
Month Day
February 07

In Baltimore, Maryland, a small fire in the business district is wind-whipped into an uncontrollable conflagration that engulfs a large portion of the city by evening. The fire is believed to have been started by a discarded cigarette in the basement of the Hurst Building. When the blaze finally burned down after 31 hours, an 80-block area of the downtown area, stretching from the waterfront to Mount Vernon on Charles Street, had been destroyed. More than 1,500 buildings were completely leveled, and some 1,000 severely damaged, bringing property loss from the disaster to an estimated $100 million. Miraculously, official reports said no homes or lives were lost—although some reports did say one African American man perished—and Baltimore’s domed City Hall, built in 1867, was preserved.

The Great Baltimore Fire was the most destructive fire in the United States since the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 destroyed most of the city and caused an estimated $200 million in property damage.

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Test triggers nuclear disaster at Chernobyl

Year
1986
Month Day
April 26

On April 26, 1986, the world’s worst nuclear power plant accident occurs at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in the Soviet Union. Thirty-two people died and dozens more suffered radiation burns in the opening days of the crisis, but only after Swedish authorities reported the fallout did Soviet authorities reluctantly admit that an accident had occurred.

The Chernobyl station was situated at the settlement of Pripyat, about 65 miles north of Kiev in the Ukraine. Built in the late 1970s on the banks of the Pripyat River, Chernobyl had four reactors, each capable of producing 1,000 megawatts of electric power. On the evening of April 25, 1986, a group of engineers began an electrical-engineering experiment on the Number 4 reactor. The engineers, who had little knowledge of reactor physics, wanted to see if the reactor’s turbine could run emergency water pumps on inertial power.

As part of their poorly designed experiment, the engineers disconnected the reactor’s emergency safety systems and its power-regulating system. Next, they compounded this recklessness with a series of mistakes: They ran the reactor at a power level so low that the reaction became unstable, and then removed too many of the reactor’s control rods in an attempt to power it up again. The reactor’s output rose to more than 200 megawatts but was proving increasingly difficult to control. Nevertheless, at 1:23 a.m. on April 26, the engineers continued with their experiment and shut down the turbine engine to see if its inertial spinning would power the reactor’s water pumps. In fact, it did not adequately power the water pumps, and without cooling water the power level in the reactor surged.

READ MORE: Chernobyl Disaster: The Meltdown by the Minute

To prevent meltdown, the operators reinserted all the 200-some control rods into the reactor at once. The control rods were meant to reduce the reaction but had a design flaw: graphite tips. So, before the control rod’s five meters of absorbent material could penetrate the core, 200 graphite tips simultaneously entered, thus facilitating the reaction and causing an explosion that blew off the heavy steel and concrete lid of the reactor. It was not a nuclear explosion, as nuclear power plants are incapable of producing such a reaction, but was chemical, driven by the ignition of gases and steam that were generated by the runaway reaction. In the explosion and ensuing fire, more than 50 tons of radioactive material were released into the atmosphere, where it was carried by air currents.

On April 27, Soviet authorities began an evacuation of the 30,000 inhabitants of Pripyat. A cover-up was attempted, but on April 28 Swedish radiation monitoring stations, more than 800 miles to the northwest of Chernobyl, reported radiation levels 40 percent higher than normal. Later that day, the Soviet news agency acknowledged that a major nuclear accident had occurred at Chernobyl.

READ MORE: 7 People Who Played a Crucial Role in the World’s Worst Nuclear Disaster

In the opening days of the crisis, 32 people died at Chernobyl and dozens more suffered radiation burns. The radiation that escaped into the atmosphere, which was several times that produced by the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, was spread by the wind over Northern and Eastern Europe, contaminating millions of acres of forest and farmland. An estimated 5,000 Soviet citizens eventually died from cancer and other radiation-induced illnesses caused by their exposure to the Chernobyl radiation, and millions more had their health adversely affected. In 2000, the last working reactors at Chernobyl were shut down and the plant was officially closed.

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