Germanwings pilot intentionally crashes plane, killing 150 people


Year
2015
Month Day
March 24

On March 24, 2015, the co-pilot of a German airliner deliberately flies the plane into the French Alps, killing himself and the other 149 people onboard. When it crashed, Germanwings flight 9525 had been traveling from Barcelona, Spain, to Dusseldorf, Germany.

The plane took off from Barcelona around 10 a.m. local time and reached its cruising altitude of 38,000 feet at 10:27 a.m. Shortly afterward, the captain, 34-year-old Patrick Sondenheimer, requested that the co-pilot, 27-year-old Andreas Lubitz, take over the controls while he left the cockpit, probably to use the bathroom. At 10:31 a.m. the plane began a rapid descent and 10 minutes later crashed in mountainous terrain near the town of Prads-Haute-Bleone in southern France. There were no survivors. Besides the two pilots, the doomed Airbus A320 was carrying four cabin crew members and 144 passengers from 18 different countries, including three Americans.

Following the crash, investigators determined once the captain had stepped out of the cockpit Lubitz locked the door and wouldn’t let him back in. Sondenheimer could be heard on the plane’s black box voice recorder frantically yelling at his co-pilot and trying to break down the cockpit door. (In the aftermath of 9/11, Lufthansa installed fortified cockpit doors; however, when the Germanwings flight crashed the airline wasn’t required to have two crew members in the cockpit at all times, as U.S. carriers do.) Additionally, the flight data recorder showed Lubitz seemed to have rehearsed his suicide mission during an earlier flight that same day, when he repeatedly set the plane’s altitude dial to just 100 feet while the captain was briefly out of the cockpit. (Because Lubitz quickly reset the controls, his actions went unnoticed during the flight.)

Crash investigators also learned Lubitz had a history of severe depression and in the days before the disaster had searched the Internet for ways to commit suicide as well as for information about cockpit-door security. In 2008, Lubitz, a German native who flew gliders as a teen, entered the pilot-training program for Lufthansa, which owns budget-airliner Germanwings. He took time off from the program in 2009 to undergo treatment for psychological problems but later was readmitted and obtained his commercial pilot’s license in 2012. He started working for Germanwings in 2013. Investigators turned up evidence that in the months leading up to the crash Lubitz had visited a series of doctors for an unknown condition. He reportedly had notes declaring him unfit to work but kept this information from Lufthansa.

Instances of pilots using planes to commit suicide are rare. According to The New York Times, a U.S. Federal Aviation Administration study found that out of 2,758 aviation accidents documented by the FAA from 2003 to 2012, only eight were ruled suicides.

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NATO bombs Yugoslavia


Year
1999
Month Day
March 24

On March 24, 1999, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) commences air strikes against Yugoslavia with the bombing of Serbian military positions in the Yugoslav province of Kosovo. The NATO offensive came in response to a new wave of ethnic cleansing launched by Serbian forces against the Kosovar Albanians on March 20.

The Kosovo region lay at the heart of the Serbian empire in the late Middle Ages but was lost to the Ottoman Turks in 1389 following Serbia’s defeat in the Battle of Kosovo. By the time Serbia regained control of Kosovo from Turkey in 1913, there were few Serbs left in a region that had come to be dominated by ethnic Albanians. In 1918, Kosovo formally became a province of Serbia, and it continued as such after communist leader Josip Broz Tito established the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia in 1945, comprising the Balkan states of Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Slovenia and Macedonia. However, Tito eventually gave in to Kosovar demands for greater autonomy, and after 1974 Kosovo existed as independent state in all but name.

Serbs came to resent Kosovo’s autonomy, which allowed it to act against Serbian interests, and in 1987 Slobodan Milosevic was elected leader of Serbia’s Communist Party with a promise of restoring Serbian rule to Kosovo. In 1989, Milosevic became president of Serbia and moved quickly to suppress Kosovo, stripping its autonomy and in 1990 sending troops to disband its government. Meanwhile, Serbian nationalism led to the dissolution of the Yugoslav federation in 1991, and in 1992 the Balkan crisis deteriorated into civil war. A new Yugoslav state, consisting only of Serbia and the small state of Montenegro, was created, and Kosovo began four years of nonviolent resistance to Serbian rule.

The militant Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) emerged in 1996 and began attacking Serbian police in Kosovo. With arms obtained in Albania, the KLA stepped up its attacks in 1997, prompting a major offensive by Serbian troops against the rebel-held Drenica region in February-March 1998. Dozens of civilians were killed, and enlistment in the KLA increased dramatically. In July, the KLA launched an offensive across Kosovo, seizing control of nearly half the province before being routed in a Serbian counteroffensive later that summer. The Serbian troops drove thousands of ethnic Albanians from their homes and were accused of massacring Kosovo civilians.

In October, NATO threatened Serbia with air strikes, and Milosevic agreed to allow the return of tens of thousands of refugees. Fighting soon resumed, however, and talks between Kosovar Albanians and Serbs in Rambouillet, France, in February 1999 ended in failure. On March 18, further peace talks in Paris collapsed after the Serbian delegation refused to sign a deal calling for Kosovo autonomy and the deployment of NATO troops to enforce the agreement. Two days later, the Serbian army launched a new offensive in Kosovo. On March 24, NATO air strikes began.

In addition to Serbian military positions, the NATO air campaign targeted Serbian government buildings and the country’s infrastructure in an effort to destabilize the Milosevic regime. The bombing and continued Serbian offensives drove hundreds of thousands of Kosovar Albanians into neighboring Albania, Macedonia, and Montenegro. Many of these refugees were airlifted to safety in the United States and other NATO nations. On June 10, the NATO bombardment ended when Serbia agreed to a peace agreement calling for the withdrawal of Serb forces from Kosovo and their replacement by NATO peacekeeping troops.

With the exception of two U.S. pilots killed in a training mission in Albania, no NATO personnel lost their lives in the 78-day operation. There were some mishaps, however, such as miscalculated bombings that led to the deaths of Kosovar Albanian refugees, KLA members, and Serbian civilians. The most controversial incident was the May 7 bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, which killed three Chinese journalists and caused a diplomatic crisis in U.S.-Chinese relations.

On June 12, NATO forces moved into Kosovo from Macedonia. The same day, Russian troops arrived in the Kosovo capital of Pristina and forced NATO into agreeing to a joint occupation. Despite the presence of peacekeeping troops, the returning Kosovar Albanians retaliated against Kosovo’s Serbian minority, forcing them to flee into Serbia. Under the NATO occupation, Kosovar autonomy was restored, but the province remained officially part of Serbia.

Slobodan Milosevic was ousted from power by a popular revolution in Belgrade in October 2000. He was replaced by the popularly elected Vojislav Kostunica, a moderate Serbian nationalist who promised to reintegrate Serbia into Europe and the world after a decade of isolation.

Slobodan Milosevic died in prison in the Netherlands on March 11, 2006, during his trial for crimes against humanity and genocide. Due to his death, the court returned no verdict.

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Astronaut Shannon Lucid enters Mir space station


Year
1996
Month Day
March 24

U.S. astronaut Shannon Lucid transfers to the Russian space station Mir from the U.S. space shuttle Atlantis for a planned five-month stay. Lucid was the first female U.S. astronaut to live in a space station.

Lucid, a biochemist, shared Mir with Russian cosmonauts Yuri Onufriyenko and Yuri Usachev, conducting scientific experiments during her stay. Beginning in August, her scheduled return to Earth was delayed more than six weeks because of last-minute repairs to the booster rockets of Atlantis and then by a hurricane. Finally, on September 26, 1996, she returned to Earth aboard Atlantis, touching down at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Her 188-day sojourn aboard Mir set a new space endurance record for an American and a world endurance record for a woman.

READ MORE: Space Exploration: Timeline and Technologies

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Queen Elizabeth I dies


Year
1603
Month Day
March 24

After 44 years of rule, Queen Elizabeth I of England dies, and King James VI of Scotland ascends to the throne, uniting England and Scotland under a single British monarch.

The daughter of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth succeeded to the throne in 1559 upon the death of her half-sister Queen Mary. The two half-sisters, both daughters of Henry VIII, had a stormy relationship during Mary’s five-year reign. Mary, who was brought up as a Catholic, enacted pro-Catholic legislation and made efforts to restore the pope to supremacy in England. A Protestant rebellion ensued, and Queen Mary imprisoned Elizabeth, a Protestant, in the Tower of London on suspicion of complicity. After Mary’s death, Elizabeth survived several Catholic plots against her; although her ascension was greeted with approval by most of England’s lords, who were largely Protestant and hoped for greater religious tolerance under a Protestant queen. Under the early guidance of Secretary of State Sir William Cecil, Elizabeth repealed Mary’s pro-Catholic legislation, established a permanent Protestant Church of England, and encouraged the Calvinist reformers in Scotland.

READ MORE: The Wildly Different Childhoods of Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots

In foreign affairs, Elizabeth practiced a policy of strengthening England’s Protestant allies and dividing her foes. Elizabeth was opposed by the pope, who refused to recognize her legitimacy, and by Spain, a Catholic nation that was at the height of its power. In 1588, English-Spanish rivalry led to an abortive Spanish invasion of England in which the Spanish Armada, the greatest naval force in the world at the time, was destroyed by storms and a determined English navy.

With increasing English domination at sea, Elizabeth encouraged voyages of discovery, such as Sir Francis Drake’s circumnavigation of the world and Sir Walter Raleigh’s expeditions to the North American coast.

The long reign of Elizabeth, who became known as the “Virgin Queen” for her reluctance to endanger her authority through marriage, coincided with the flowering of the English Renaissance, associated with such renowned authors as William Shakespeare. By her death in 1603, England had become a major world power in every respect, and Queen Elizabeth I passed into history as one of England’s greatest monarchs.

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Exxon Valdez crashes, causing one of the worst oil spills in history


Year
1989
Month Day
March 24

One of the worst oil spills in U.S. territory begins when the supertanker Exxon Valdez, owned and operated by the Exxon Corporation, runs aground on a reef in Prince William Sound in southern Alaska. An estimated 11 million gallons of oil eventually spilled into the water. Attempts to contain the massive spill were unsuccessful, and wind and currents spread the oil more than 100 miles from its source, eventually polluting more than 700 miles of coastline. Hundreds of thousands of birds and animals were adversely affected by the environmental disaster.

It was later revealed that Joseph Hazelwood, the captain of the Valdez, was drinking at the time of the accident and allowed an uncertified officer to steer the massive vessel. In March 1990, Hazelwood was convicted of misdemeanor negligence, fined $50,000, and ordered to perform 1,000 hours of community service. In July 1992, an Alaska court overturned Hazelwood’s conviction, citing a federal statute that grants freedom from prosecution to those who report an oil spill.

Exxon itself was condemned by the National Transportation Safety Board and in early 1991 agreed under pressure from environmental groups to pay a penalty of $100 million and provide $1 billion over a 10-year period for the cost of the cleanup. However, later in the year, both Alaska and Exxon rejected the agreement, and in October 1991 the oil giant settled the matter by paying $25 million, less than 4 percent of the cleanup aid promised by Exxon earlier that year.

READ MORE: The Early Environmentalists

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German forces cross the Somme River


Year
1918
Month Day
March 24

On March 24, 1918, German forces cross the Somme River, achieving their first goal of the major spring offensive begun three days earlier on the Western Front.

Operation Michael, engineered by the German chief of the general staff, Erich von Ludendorff, aimed to decisively break through the Allied lines on the Western Front and destroy the British and French forces. The offensive began on the morning of March 21, 1918, with an aggressive bombardment.

The brunt of the attack that followed was directed at the British 5th Army, commanded by General Sir Hubert Gough, stationed along the Somme River in northwestern France. This section was the most poorly defended of any spot on the British lines, due to the fact that it had been held by the French until only a few weeks before and its defensive positions were not yet fully fortified. Panic spread up and down the British lines of command, intensified by communications failures between Gough and his subordinates in the field, and German gains increased over the subsequent days of battle. On March 23, Crown Prince Rupprecht, on the German side of the line, remarked that The progress of our offensive is so quick, that one cannot follow it with a pen.

READ MORE: Life in the Trenches of World War I

The next day, German troops stormed across the Somme, having previously captured its bridges before French troops could destroy them. Despite having resolved to concentrate on weaker points of the enemy lines, Ludendorff continued to throw his armies against the crucial villages of Amiens (a railway junction) and Arras—which the British and French were instructed to hold at all costs—hoping to break through and push on towards Paris. By that time, German troops were exhausted, and transportation and supply lines had begun to break down in the cold and bad weather. Meanwhile, Allied forces had recovered from the initial disadvantage and had begun to gain the upper hand, halting the Germans at Moreuil Wood on March 30.

On April 5, Ludendorff called off Operation Michael. It had yielded nearly 40 miles of territory, the greatest gains for either side on the Western Front since 1914. He would launch four more offensive pushes over the course of the spring and summer, throwing all of the German army’s resources into this last, desperate attempt to win the war.

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North Vietnamese launch “Ho Chi Minh Campaign”


Year
1975
Month Day
March 24

The North Vietnamese “Ho Chi Minh Campaign” begins. Despite the 1973 Paris Peace Accords cease fire, the fighting had continued between South Vietnamese forces and the North Vietnamese troops in South Vietnam. In December 1974, the North Vietnamese launched a major attack against the lightly defended province of Phuoc Long, located north of Saigon along the Cambodian border. They successfully overran the provincial capital at Phuoc Binh on January 6, 1975.

President Richard Nixon had repeatedly promised South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu that the United States would come to the aid of South Vietnam if the North Vietnamese committed a major violation of the Peace Accords. However, by the time the communists had taken Phuoc Long, Nixon had resigned from office and his successor, Gerald Ford, was unable to convince a hostile Congress to make good on Nixon’s promises to Saigon.

The North Vietnamese, emboldened by the situation, launched Campaign 275 in March 1975 to take the provincial capital of Ban Me Thuot in the Central Highlands. The South Vietnamese defenders fought very poorly and were quickly overwhelmed by the North Vietnamese attackers. Once again, the United States did nothing. President Thieu, however, ordered his forces in the Highlands to withdraw to more defensible positions to the south. What started out as a reasonably orderly withdrawal degenerated into a panic that spread throughout the South Vietnamese armed forces. They abandoned Pleiku and Kontum in the Highlands with very little fighting and the North Vietnamese pressed the attack from the west and north. In quick succession, Quang Tri, Hue, and Da Nang in the north fell to the communist onslaught. The North Vietnamese continued to attack south along the coast, defeating the South Vietnamese forces one at a time.

As the North Vietnamese forces closed on the approaches to Saigon, the Politburo in Hanoi issued an order to Gen. Van Tien Dung to launch the “Ho Chi Minh Campaign,” the final assault on Saigon itself. By April 27, the North Vietnamese had completely encircled Saigon and by April 30, the North Vietnamese tanks broke through the gates of the Presidential Palace in Saigon and the Vietnam War came to an end.

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First anti-war teach-in conducted


Year
1965
Month Day
March 24

The first “teach-in” is conducted at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor; two hundred faculty members participate by holding special anti-war seminars. Regular classes were canceled, and rallies and speeches dominated for 12 hours. On March 26, there was a similar teach-in at Columbia University in New York City; this form of protest eventually spread to many colleges and universities.

READ MORE: How the Vietnam War Empowered the Hippie Movement

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Elvis Presley is inducted into the U.S. Army


Year
1958
Month Day
March 24

When Elvis Presley turned 18 on January 8, 1953, he fulfilled his patriotic duty and legal obligation to register his name with the Selective Service System, thereby making himself eligible for the draft. The Korean War was still underway at the time, but as a student in good standing at L.C. Humes High School in Memphis, Elvis received a student deferment that kept him from facing conscription during that conflict’s final months. Elvis would receive another deferment four years later when his draft number finally came up, but this time for a very different reason: to complete the filming of his third Hollywood movie, King Creole. With that obligation fulfilled, Uncle Sam would wait no longer. On March 24, 1958, Elvis Presley was finally inducted, starting his day as the King of Rock and Roll, but ending it as a lowly buck private in the United States Army.

Elvis’s manager, “Colonel” Tom Parker, made sure to have a photographer on hand to document every moment of the big day, which began at Graceland before six that morning. The photos show Elvis in dark slacks, an opened-collar shirt and a tasteful plaid sports coat, preparing to depart the house with his similarly well-dressed mom and dad for the short ride to the induction center in downtown Memphis. The 23-year-old Elvis looked fantastic, of course, and his face betrayed no hint of nervousness or regret. The flat expression on Gladys Presley’s face, however, and the dark circles under her eyes, hint at the emotional impact of preparing to send her only child off on a two-year stint away from home—far longer than she and Elvis had ever before been separated. This would be the last time that Elvis would see his mother in good health, as she was diagnosed with hepatitis and hospitalized later that spring during Elvis’s first weekend leave. Elvis would be granted leave once again in August to attend to his mother on her death bed. Gladys Presley passed away on August 16, 1958, and four weeks later, Elvis shipped out to Germany.

There would be other huge changes in Elvis’s life during his two years in the Army. He would meet a 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu while in Germany, and he would watch while a new crop of teen idols took over the limelight on the U.S. pop scene. In the spring of 1960, Elvis would return to his rightful throne, but his Army years mark a clear line of separation between the Old Elvis and the New. Behind Elvis Presley lay records like “That’s All Right (Mama)” and “Jailhouse Rock.” Ahead of lay songs like “Aloha Oe” and “Pocketful of Rainbows,” and films like Harum Scarum and Clambake.

READ MORE: 7 Fascinating Facts About Elvis Presley

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“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” opens


Year
1955
Month Day
March 24

Tennessee Williams’ play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof opens in New York, two days before his 44th birthday. The play would win Williams his second Pulitzer Prize.

Williams had been an award-winning playwright since 1945, when his first hit play, The Glass Menagerie, opened, winning the Drama Critics Circle Award. Two years later, he won his first Pulitzer Prize, for A Streetcar Named Desire.

Williams led a colorful and tragic life. Born in 1911 in Columbia, Mississippi, he was a sickly child terrorized by his violent traveling-salesman father. When he was seven, the family moved to St. Louis, where his father became manager of a shoe company. Persecuted and taunted by his father, he took refuge in reading and writing and in a close relationship with his beloved sister Rose. At 14, he won a prize in a national writing competition and three years later sold a short story to Weird Tales magazine.

Williams studied at the University of Missouri at Columbia but left to work in his father’s shoe warehouse for three years. He later attended Washington University in St. Louis and finally graduated from the University of Iowa at age 27. Sadly, his sister Rose, who suffered severe mental disturbances that Williams blamed on his father’s violence, was lobotomized during this time.

Williams started writing plays during college and continued when he moved to New Orleans in the 1930s, where he changed his name from Thomas to Tennessee. In 1939, he won an award for a small production of his one-act collection American Blues. He worked briefly in Hollywood as a screenwriter and later turned a failed screenplay into The Glass Menagerie. The play launched Williams to critical success, which he maintained until the 1960s, when the critics turned on him. However, he continued writing until his death in 1983, when he choked on a medicine-bottle cap.

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