November 12 in history:
An American Airlines flight crashed in Queens, New York on November 12th, 2001, shortly after taking off from JFK Airport. More than 250 people were killed. It was the first major crash of a commercial airplane in the U.S. since the World Trade Center attack two months earlier, leading to concerns that it might be an act of terrorism. Even though pilot error was found to be the cause of the disaster, rumors spread that a terrorist did blow up the plane.
A very unusual explosion took place on this date in 1970, in Florence, Oregon…after a whale beached itself there. The Oregon Highway Division was the agency in charge of the state’s beaches at the time, and highway staffers decided that the best way to dispose of the eight-ton whale carcass was to blow it up with half-a-ton of dynamite. The explosion, captured on film by a local TV station, blasted chunks of whale hundreds of feet from the carcass.
An ice skating star was born in Oregon on the same day that whale blew up. Tonya Harding competed in women’s figure skating at the Winter Olympics of 1992 and 1994. The second time, Harding’s backers plotted to help her get to the Olympics by physically attacking her chief rival, Nancy Kerrigan, at the U.S. championships. Tonya got to the Olympics again, but the scheme blew up in their faces. Kerrigan recovered from her leg injury and won the Olympic silver medal, while Harding placed 8th.
Harding shares her November 12th birthday with another Olympic athlete: Nadia Comaneci of Romania, born in 1961. Comaneci made history at the Montreal Games of 1976 by getting the first perfect score in Olympic women’s gymnastics.
October 23 in history:
Brutus is infamous for his role in assassinating Julius Caesar in the Roman Senate, in 44 B.C. Two years later, on October 23rd, 42 B.C., Brutus met his own fate, killing himself after losing the second battle of Philippi to Marc Antony.
A fateful meeting of two old friends, two pilots, led to deadly consequences in 1942. One man was flying a B-34 bomber for the Army, while the other was a pilot for American Airlines. They discovered that both would be flying near Palm Springs, California the next day, October 23rd. On that day, the bomber pilot, Lt. William Wilson, tried flying close to American Flight 28 to signal to his friend, First Officer Louis Reppert. Wilson got too close, and the planes collided. The airliner crashed in the desert, killing all 12 people aboard. Wilson went through a court-martial, but was acquitted.
One passenger on the American flight was an Oscar-winning songwriter, Ralph Rainger. He’s best known for writing the theme songs used by two popular comedians…”Love in Bloom,” associated with Jack Benny, and “Thanks for the Memory,” Bob Hope’s theme. Late in their careers, Hope and Benny appeared frequently with Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show.” Carson became a comedy legend in his own right, by hosting “Tonight” for 30 years. He was born October 23rd, 1925.
NBC airs “Saturday Night Live” in the “Tonight Show” time slot on weekends. On October 23rd, 1976, Steve Martin hosted “SNL” for the first time, and played the host of “Jeopardy! 1999,” a futuristic parody of the popular game show. “I Lost on Jeopardy,” a take-off of the Greg Kihn song “Jeopardy,” was an early hit for song parodist and musician “Weird Al” Yankovic, born this day in 1959.
May 25th in history:
The deadliest single airplane accident ever in the U.S. occurred at O’Hare Airport on May 25th, 1979, when American Airlines Flight 191 crashed shortly after takeoff. All 271 people aboard the DC-10 died after one engine fell off, and the plane tilted more than 100 degrees to the left before crashing.
On May 25th, 1961, President Kennedy announced the Apollo Project, stating his goal of landing a man on the moon and returning him to Earth before the end of the decade. This was only three weeks after America’s first manned space flight.
On the same date in 1977, the original “Star Wars” movie opened around the U.S. That was the 33rd birthday of Muppet master Frank Oz, who played Jedi master Yoda in later “Star Wars” films, and has portrayed many other Muppets characters, including Fozzie Bear and Miss Piggy.
May 25th also is the birthday of screenwriter Bob Gale (born 1951), who (with Robert Zemeckis) created a flying DeLorean time machine in the “Back to the Future” movies, and real-life helicopter developer Igor Sikorsky (1889).
March 1st in history:
On March 1st, 1962, an American Airlines flight from New York to Los Angeles with 95 people aboard crashed into Jamaica Bay just after takeoff from Idlewild Airport on Long Island. No one survived. It was the worst crash involving a U.S. commercial airliner up until that time.
The crash happened on the same day that astronaut John Glenn was being honored in New York with a ticker-tape parade, for being the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth. Fellow Mercury astronaut Deke Slayton turned 38 that day. Slayton was scheduled to fly on the next Mercury mission, but a medical problem grounded him, and kept him from flying in space until 1975.
Other famous people associated with flying were born on March 1st. They include:
Bandleader Glenn Miller (born 1904), lost on a plane flight while serving in World War II;
Actor Robert Conrad (birth year in dispute, either 1929 or 1935), who played World War II pilot Pappy Boyington on “Black Sheep Squadron,” but is best known as secret agent James West on “The Wild Wild West”;
And Ron Howard (1954), who directed the space drama Apollo 13. Before becoming an award-winning director, Howard played Opie Taylor on “The Andy Griffith Show” and Richie Cunningham on “Happy Days.”