January 15th in history:
Twenty-one people were killed and more than 100 others were injured by a flash flood in Boston on January 15th, 1919 — a flood of molasses. A 50-foot-tall holding tank owned by the Purity Distilling Company burst open, and more than two million gallons of molasses poured out in a wave that was said to be as high as 15 feet. The tank had sprung leaks before that day, and experts think the “Great Molasses Flood” might have been caused by unusually warm winter weather.
Another East Coast disaster 90 years later had a much happier ending. January 15th, 2009, was the date of the “Miracle on the Hudson,” when U.S. Airways pilot Chesley Sullenberger landed Flight 1549 from New York’s La Guardia Airport onto the Hudson River after birds flew into the engines two minutes into the flight. All of the crew members and the 150 passengers survived the water landing.
A Mississippi plane crash in 1977 killed three members of the band Lynyrd Skynyrd, including the lead singer of “Free Bird,” Ronnie Van Zant — born on this date in 1948. And it’s the birthday of actor Lloyd Bridges (1913), who had a career revival after appearing in the disaster-film spoof “Airplane!”
December 22 in history:
An airline passenger who became known as the “shoe bomber” tried to light an explosive in his shoe during a flight from Paris to Miami on December 22nd, 2001. Other passengers subdued suspect Richard Reid, and the flight was diverted to Boston. Reid, who claimed to belong to Al-Qaeda, was sentenced to life in prison for the bombing plot, which came three months after the September 11th attacks in the U.S. Because of this incident, airport security workers in the U.S. began requiring passengers to take off their shoes for screening before boarding a commercial plane.
A passenger on a New York subway train shot and wounded four young men who surrounded him on December 22nd, 1984. One was left paralyzed by the shooting. Bernhard Goetz admitted to firing at the men, claiming self-defense because they tried to rob him. The men claimed they were panhandling. Some have considered the shooting to be racially motivated, because Goetz was white and the men he shot were black. Goetz was acquitted of attempted murder and assault, and spent eight months behind bars for illegal gun possession. He became known in the New York media as the “subway vigilante.”
Singer Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees and his wife were two of the passengers who survived a deadly train derailment in London in 1967 which killed 49 people. Gibb and his twin brother, Maurice, were born on December 22nd, 1949. The twins and their brother Barry became a very successful recording act, best known for hits such as “Jive Talkin’” and the soundtrack to the movie Saturday Night Fever.
Barbara Billingsley’s career was revived when she played a jive-speaking passenger in the disaster-movie spoof Airplane! Before that, Billingsley was mainly known as TV mom June Cleaver on “Leave It to Beaver.” She was born December 22nd, 1915.
June 30th in history:
A large explosion occurred a few miles over Siberia on June 30th, 1908, flattening trees and causing other extensive damage. The object that exploded is thought to have been a comet or meteorite, and the blast might have been one thousand times as powerful as the atomic bomb blast at Hiroshima.
On this date in 1956, two passenger planes collided over the Grand Canyon, killing all 128 people aboard the TWA and United flights. The planes were flying around clouds, and the pilots apparently didn’t see each other until it was too late. Wreckage from the planes still remains in the canyon. (Ironic note for fans of “Airplane!”: the pilot of the United flight was named Capt. Shirley.)
And on June 30th, 1859, French acrobat Charles Blondin made the first of his famous tightrope walks across Niagara Falls.