The world is not impervious to disaster. Although we can take necessary measures to evade disaster, sometimes it is just unavoidable. When disaster finally strikes, chances are that there will be some form of debris left behind. Be it space shuttle debris reentering earth, a plane crash, or a car crash, these scattered fragments typically give some intriguing insight into a disaster.
Indeed, debris can form a very important part of an investigation. Debris creates a roadmap for the events that led to the destruction of the whole from which they came. For instance, air crash investigators rely almost solely on the data recorders and black boxes on planes to find out the cause of its crash. But what if they can’t trace these boxes?
Investigators have been known to turn to the debris from the fuselage, marks on the tail of an airplane, the engines to deduce the likely cause of the airplane crash. Of course, debris does not only result when accidents occur. Rubbish, garbage, waste and litter are all forms of debris. Egypt, in fact, has a city called Garbage City, which is so piled up with garbage that its recycling is central to its economy.
Whether it’s giving insight into a disaster or leaving titillating tips on human history or other planets, debris can be filled with stories. The following are 15 of the most fascinating pieces of debris from around the world.
15. The Unexplained “Ghost” Flight Debris from Jamaica
Now you see debris, now you don’t. Such was the case for a Socata TBM-700 flying over Cuba into the Caribbean. Before it crashed, two F-15 military jets tailed the plane in an effort to bring it down. What the F-15 pilots saw was jaw dropping. The pilot in the cockpit looked as though he was unconscious, and the frosting on the windows confirmed it.
The plane crashed a few miles from Port Antonio, and search teams were deployed to recover the plane and the missing bodies. During their search, they reported to have seen debris, but on approaching the area, they found nothing. Jamaica Coast Guard Commander speculated that the plane might have sunk.
14. The Fengyun 1C Satellite Debris
Debris can occur on Earth and beyond – like in outer space. There are over 500,000 pieces of debris in the orbit. The Fengyun 1C was an anti-satellite missile test conducted in 2007 that left debris in the orbit.
Fast forward six years and a piece from this test hit a Russian satellite by the name of Ball Lens in the Space (BLITS), pushing it away from the earth and rendering it useless. Researchers from the Center for Space Standards and Innovation reported that this piece of debris interfered with scientific experiments that were being conducted on the satellite.
13. The Debris That Brought Down Air France Flight 4590
The supersonic Concorde was fun while it lasted, and Air France Flight 4590 was one of these supersonic wonders. In July 2000, this incredible plane was scheduled to fly from Paris to New York. However, it was not fated to reach its destination, as it crashed into a French Hotel. What led to this turmoil was yet another plane: A Continental Airlines DC-10 had dropped a titanium alloy 17 inches long on the runway.
No one bothered to do an inspection of the runway. Moments later, Air France Flight 4590 took off but the debris tore off its tire. The plane ended up crashing into a hotel in Gonesse, France killing all passengers and crewmembers plus four civilians on the ground.
12. Saudi Arabian Rocket Debris
Imagine a piece of junk falling from space, 175 kilometers above ground, into your neighborhood. That’s what happened in 2001, when a Payload Assist Module, commonly known to us as a rocket engine, reentered Earth and fell on the not-so-densely populated Saudi Arabian desert.
This was 8 years after it was used to launch a GPS satellite into space. What’s most mysterious about this piece of debris is that it landed on earth in impossibly good shape, given that it had fallen over 108 miles.
11. The Loud, Mysterious Debris Bangs
In 2014, folks from the United Kingdom bore witness to mysterious noises from the sky that sounded like far-away fireworks. People in New York, Denmark, Sydney, and France were reported to have heard the same noises, and at the same time as the people from UK.
Some of these people even got on social media and tweeted about their experiences. Anne SPN Svendsen said that she heard mysterious booms. Could it have been space debris reentering earth? It remains a mystery.
10. SilkAir Flight 185 Impact Debris
In 19 December 1997, SilkAir Flight 185 was ferrying 97 passengers plus 7 crew members from Indonesia to Singapore. The Boeing 737 departed from the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta at around 1500 hrs. It was cleared to climb to 35,000ft, which it did. It flew at this attitude until it suddenly and inexplicably started falling rapidly.
The plane dove vertically through 12,000ft, disintegrating the plane’s body into pieces. It took approximately one minute for the plane to finally plunge into the Musi River. Search teams reported that the plane was totally dismembered and its debris scattered several kilometers. Additionally, no single body part was recovered due to the high impact disintegration.
9. The 2003 Columbia Disaster
Space Shuttle Columbia launched on January 16 2003. However, 82 seconds after launch, a sizeable piece of foam broke away from the shuttle’s external tank, hitting the left wing. The shuttle ascended nonetheless.
During its reentry into earth, it broke apart and claimed the lives of all seven crewmembers. Investigations carried out by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board determined that the piece of foam that hit the left wing during the January 16 launch had likely caused a hole that led to hot gases entering the wing.
8. The 14 Inexplicable Pieces of Debris
Space debris is always shrouded in mystery.
In 2014, NASA reported 14 mysterious pieces of debris from space. These pieces were produced by two incidents, one occurring in June and the other in November. The June incident was harder to explain than the November incident.
NASA concluded that a collision with another piece of untracked debris was the likely cause of the June debris, causing 10 unexplained pieces of space matter to float into our orbit. The November collision produced 4 pieces of debris. Officials from NASA affirmed that it could be the result of a small piece of junk hitting the Iridium 91 satellite.
7. The 1956 Grand Canyon Collision
The 1956 Grand Canyon collision was an interesting one. A United Airlines Douglas DC-7 and a Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation collided mid-air over the Grand Canyon. It was around 10.30 when the two planes’ flight paths inexplicably intersected.
The DC-7’s raised wing hit the Constellation’s fuselage as well as the vertical stabilizer. This sent both planes tumbling down at such a high velocity that the impact disintegrated all the people aboard both planes.
The crash went undetected until two men discovered the debris from both planes and reported the matter to the appropriate authorities.
6. The Debris Spotted by an Airplane Passenger
On 27 March 2007, a plane spotter was busy tuning his radio when he suddenly saw a flaming piece of debris heading straight for the earth. The pilot also saw it. He contacted the Auckland Oceanic Centre traffic controllers and reported the piece of junk about 8 kilometers from his plane.
The pilot said that he heard a sonic boom as the bizarre and entirely mysterious flaming object passed his plane. Officials from Qantas were reported saying that the debris would have had grim consequences for all 270 passengers had it hit the plane.
5. The Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas Debris
The tales of inexplicable debris continue with the residents of Louisiana who encountered a sonic-like boom that shook their houses, tossed their shelves over and moved couches around on 13 October 2014.
What was particularly odd was that the weather that day was as clear as a misty morning on the Thames.
Radar belonging to the National Weather Service identified a thick debris field in Louisiana’s northwest corner. Officials at the nearby Louisiana National Guard camp reported that nothing happened to cause the debris and no oil and gas factories exploded that day. Additionally, no meteor showers were witnessed on that fateful day. This incident remains a mystery.
4. American Airlines Flight 191 Crash
American Airlines Flight 191 crash in 1979 is one of the worst air disasters in history. A few minutes after takeoff from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, Flight 191 dropped its left engine. Its left wing then stalled. This sent it falling into the earth over a kilometer away from the runway. It then ignited and exploded into a ball of fire that could be seen nearly 10 kilometers away.
Burnt bodies scattered at the crash site, and it was so hot that when the priest arrived at the scene, all he could do was to administer the last rites. Upon conclusion of the investigations, it was found that the main reason behind this crash and the horrific fall-out was American Airline’s lacking maintenance procedures.
3. The Black, Metallic Material That Hit a Woman in Oklahoma
Lottie Williams was taking a stroll with her friends early one morning in 1997 when they spotted something from the sky. Lottie believed it to be a shooting star. She and her friends were stunned. About half an hour later, she felt something tap her shoulder. She said it felt just like that – a tap – and that it was as light as an empty bottle of soda. She then heard something fall down.
Lottie bent and picked it up, describing it as a fabric-like material which bizarrely produced a metallic sound. Experts analyzed the debris and found that is was part of the Delta II rocket that launched a year ago. The woman later got an apology letter from the deputy secretary of defense.
2. Plastic Debris in the Ocean
We all know that the huge amounts of plastic unfortunately dumped in the ocean can have catastrophic consequences on marine life. But what’s so mysterious about it? A recent study shows that the plastic in the ocean is far much smaller in quantity than researchers expected.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the ocean has about 35,000 tons of plastic particles, a minute number compared to the millions they were anticipating. It is not yet known where the plastic debris is going but it is speculated that it is either sinking at a very fast rate to the bottom of the ocean or being broken down into very fine, untraceable particles.
1. 2011 Lokomotiv Yaroslavl Debris
This 2011 disaster killed all passengers but one. The majority of the passengers were members of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl professional ice hockey team.
Moments after takeoff, the Yak-Service Flight 9633 hit a tower mast and toppled 2 kilometers from the airport. Investigators were baffled; how did this bizarre catastrophe occur?
Debris from the plane was found and data records extracted. Upon examination of the debris, investigators unearthed something incredible. They found that the tragic accident was, in fact, due to an all-too-simple blunder from the plane’s pilot. The under trained pilot had erroneously stepped on the brakes while the nose of the plane was still down, causing the accident which killed so many.