Think back to some of the most tragic events in human history. You can probably think of a few, unfortunately. The truth is that global history has been filled with traumatic and horrific disasters and events, and today we are going to look at our compiled list of 15 Chilling Photos Taken Before History’s Greatest Tragedies. While there are some events and incidents that we haven’t included on this list, we chose some that would be poignant and make a statement. So use these images and blurbs to take a short history lesson and remember some of the tragedies that have befallen mankind throughout the years.
This list includes events that occurred all throughout the world, from Mount Everest to Dallas, Texas. The incidents described here span different time periods and events and involve both famous and not-so-famous people. For instance, we have events that involved presidents and politicians, as well as actors and singers, but also explorers, everyday people, and lesser-known individuals. Space exploration, air transportation, and modern technology are some of the themes and causes of these tragedies, and you will see that we have improved a lot in our technological know-how. It’s very interesting how some of these horrific events would be very unlikely to happen these days, thanks to medical improvements, scientific discoveries, and advancements in technology and safety precautions. Still, school shootings, airplane crashes, and daredevil stunts gone wrong still happen, and probably will for years to come.
So take a look and let’s revisit some events and tragedies that changed the world.
15 Mount Everest Expedition
In 1924, George Mallory and Sandy Irvine attempted the second expedition of Mount Everest - the tallest mountain in the world. However, Mallory and Irvine ended up vanishing and perishing on the mountain, and observers were wondering whether or not the two explorers had made it to the mountain’s summit after all. In 1999, Mallory’s body was finally found and retrieved, but Irvine’s body remains lost to civilization. To prepare for the 1924 expedition, the Royal Geographic Society, Alpine Club, and Captain John Noel funded the event. Mallory and Irvine were supplied with bottled oxygen to help them maintain their breathing up high on the mountain. Tibetan Sherpas helped the explorers along the way, and along with Mallory and Irvine, several other climbers were participating in the event. After two pairs of climbers tried to reach the summit, it was Mallory and Irvine’s turn. This image shows them before embarking on that fateful journey.
14 Niagara Falls Jet Ski Jump
Robert Overacker, a 39-year-old man from California, was trying to raise awareness for homelessness in an interesting way: by jet skiing at Niagara Falls. His plan was to jet ski along Niagara Falls and then make a daring jump off the waterfalls with the help of a parachute. Unfortunately, in October 1995, that parachute never opened, and Overacker plummeted to his death in the falls. His body was retrieved by officials and was pulled from 180 feet below the waters of Canadian Horseshoe waterfall of Niagara. Overacker had been planning the jet ski parachuting stunt for about seven years, and it was all in an attempt to get people roused up to fight homelessness - a serious problem. In fact, Overacker had already visited Niagara Falls two times to do the stunt, but his friends and family members begged him not to do it. It’s pretty easy to see why, and this image is haunting.
13 John Lennon’s Assassination
Revered all around the world, John Lennon was one quarter of the popular English band The Beatles. He helped to write, compose, and sing many of the Beatles’ hit songs, and in fact, the singer had just returned from Record Plant Studio when he was assassinated. This image shows John Lennon about 10 minutes before that shooting occurred. The singer was shot outside of his New York City apartment by Mark David Chapman on December 8, 1980. Lennon was shot four times in the body and was rushed to a nearby hospital, but was announced dead on arrival. Earlier that day, Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, were photographed by famed photographer Annie Leibovitz, who traveled to the crime scene - Lennon’s apartment to take the pictures, which were for Rolling Stone Magazine. Mark David Chapman was waiting with Beatles fans and with a gun in his jacket pocket proving that the assassination was carefully planned and premeditated.
12 The Lambert Tragedy
The Lambert Tragedy killed the Mayor of St. Louis, Missouri, along with nine other victims. It occurred on August 1, 1943, at Lambert Field. The mayor, William Dee Becker, was on board a glider plane, along with other politicians and the founder of the glider’s airline company, Robertson. The really interesting thing here is that the glider’s crash was not seen as a tragedy at first. As the right wing of the aircraft fell off, people were amused and thought that it was a trick stunt. However, the glider quickly plummeted to the ground, killing all 10 people on board leaving onlookers absolutely appalled by the tragic event. The cause of the right wing falling off was due to just one bolt on the aircraft coming loose, but that minor flaw caused the wing to flutter off, throwing the glider off balance and falling 2,000 feet to the ground.
11 The MH-17 Plane Crash
The Malaysia Airlines Flight MH-17 crash stole the headlines for months. It occurred on July 17, 2014 and killed all passengers and crew members on board. The plane was shot down while taking its journey from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. Once the airplane crossed into Ukrainian territory, all contact with it was lost, it soon crash landed in the Ukrainian town of Donetsk. During this time, Ukraine was engaged in a civil war, leading to the belief that enemies thought the MH-17 flight was an attack on Ukraine. This plane crash tragedy came just months after the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH-370 catastrophe, making 2014 a terrible year for the airline. The MH-17 crash was the airline’s deadliest. This image shows the Hally family before taking off from Amsterdam. There were about 20 families on board that flight, and the innocence and youth in this picture really just breaks your heart.
10 Nightclub Fire
Rhode Island’s The Station nightclub was hosting the band Great White on February 20, 2003. The concert was popping, and everyone in attendance was enjoying the music and vocals of the band. Great White wanted to infuse something new and exciting into their show, so they had staged pyrotechnics set up. However, a pyrotechnics tragedy occurred, which killed 100 people and caused massive media coverage. This image shows the guitarist standing at the back of the stage noticing the fire sparks that initiated the deadly show. After the disaster, the nightclub owners and managers said that they had not given the band Great White permission to use pyrotechnics and related effects in their concert. However, the band members claimed that they were given permission to use such elements. In the end, the owners of The Station nightclub were charged with 200 counts of involuntary manslaughter and fined over $1 million.
Back on May 6, 1937, the horrific Hindenburg crash occurred in Lakehurst, New Jersey in the United States. The Hindenburg was something that was perceived as ahead of its time; a huge 804-foot zeppelin from Germany that boasted a maximum speed of 84 miles per hour. Rather than being filled with helium, the Hindenburg was filled with hydrogen - a flammable gas. The Hindenburg even made trans-Atlantic trips from Germany to the United States; it was truly something spectacular. However, that fateful spring day in May 1937 was one that people won’t ever forget. The Hindenburg was preparing to land in Lakehurst when it burst into flames and killed 36 of the 97 people on board. The accident was highly publicized and covered by the media for months on end. After the Hindenburg tragedy, transportation across oceans via such airships was banned. Contrary to popular belief, the disaster was not an anti-Nazi attack.
8 Patrick Swayze’s Death
Passing away at just 57 years of age, Patrick Swayze left us all too early. He did though, leave a wonderful legacy, one that is still remembered and will be for years to come. He was one of the sexiest and most sultry actors in Hollywood, appearing in films such as Dirty Dancing, Ghost, and The Outsiders, among others. Swayze had a demeanor on the big screen that symbolized him as a teenage heartthrob and sex icon. Built well and with a gorgeous face, Swayze was a shoo-in for all of the tough guy leads and romantic storylines. He was even named People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive in 1991, and he won three Golden Globe Awards for his film work. At the end of 2007, the actor was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer that is incredibly difficult to treat and cure. After 20 months of chemotherapy and medical attention, the actor passed away on September 14, 2009. He was surrounded by his family and was later cremated, with his ashes spread over his ranch in New Mexico.
7 The Titanic
Most of us know the Kate Winslet - Leonardo DiCaprio movie Titanic, but this was a real life event that deserves even more attention. Don’t get us wrong, the movie was incredible and helped show what the events of that fateful night were probably like. This image shows the Titanic as it was leaving its port in Southampton, England on April 10, 1912. This was the Titanic’s maiden voyage and had 2,240 people on board (including passengers and crew.) The Titanic was all set to cross the Atlantic Ocean and make its way to New York from England; it was a highly publicized and anticipated voyage. However, many researchers and historians say that the Titanic was nowhere near ready for its trip. The bulkheads were capable of spilling over into each other, which eventually caused the ship to sink after hitting an iceberg in the freezing and lethal Atlantic waters.
6 Robin Williams
At 63 years of age, it seemed that comedian and actor Robin Williams had it all. He had a career spanning 5 decades, iconic film roles, a sense of humor that was adored by millions, and award recognitions such as the Grammy Awards, Golden Globes, Emmy Awards, Academy Awards, and more. And yet, Robin Williams was a sad man. He was struggling with depression and early stages of Parkinson’s disease. In the 1970s, Williams struggled with a drug addiction as well. He was known for saying that his humor (and most humor) comes from something extremely sad and tragic. Beyond just his hilarious roles, Williams had others which made us cry and reflect on life. Some of his prized film roles include Mrs. Doubtfire, Aladdin, Flubber, and Dead Poets Society. This photo shows one of his last fan pics before he committed suicide.
5 Challenger Tragedy
Space travel is always a risk, but we have been working hard to eliminate as many dangers and risks as possible. On January 28, 1986 the world witnessed one of the most frightening and deadly space accidents in human history. The American space shuttle Challenger was all set for its January 28th lift-off, but just over a minute later, the space shuttle exploded, killing everyone on board. This photo shows the astronauts preparing to board the space shuttle, smiling and waving at onlookers and expressing their excitement at this opportunity at space exploration. Unfortunately, that excitement was extremely short-lived. Seven astronauts were aboard: Christa McAuliffe, Francis Scobee, Michael Smith, Judith Resnick, Ellison Onizuka, Ronald McNair, and Gregory Jarvis. Interestingly enough, the Challenger’s take-off at Cape Canaveral, Florida had been postponed for nearly a week due to inclement weather. It was very cold in Florida that year, and NASA engineers wanted the space shuttle to be fitted with extra precautions to protect against the cold conditions. Those suggestions went unheeded.
4 James Dean’s Death
Leaving a legacy as a handsome and rebellious youth, James Dean was one of the most iconic Hollywood actors back in the day. Even in modern times, James Dean is known around the world as one of the Hollywood greats, and he was most well known for his role in Rebel Without a Cause. Other prized film roles for James Dean include East of Eden and Giant. The actor symbolized everything cool and edgy and he was a representation of the teenage class in the 1950s. Unfortunately, the actor was just 24 years old when he died in a tragic car crash in 1955.
James Dean was fond of racing his cars around with his buddies, but this hobby turned out to be lethal. While prepping for a race on September 30, 1955, James Dean was in store for a fateful accident. When driving his Porsche 550 Spyder, he was hit and killed by a Ford Tudor.
3 Columbine Shooting
Columbine High School was sent into a frenzy on April 20, 1999, when two teenage students opened fire on the teachers and students of the school, which was located in Littleton, Colorado. The teens ended up killing 13 people and injuring 20 others before killing themselves with their weapons. This was the deadliest school shooting by a student in United States history, and sparked a huge nationwide debate about gun control and students’ safety. There were multiple theories about why the shooters did what they did, and theories range from being influenced by Goth culture and music, violent video games, as well as being burdened by bullying. To this day, the exact cause of the Columbine shooting is unknown. The shooting was covered by Michael Moore in the documentary Bowling for Columbine.
September 11, 2001 will forever be known as one of the deadliest and most tragic events to occur on American soil. On that day, the Islamic terrorist group Al-Qaeda issued an attack against the United States by bombing and crashing planes into New York’s World Trade Center and Washington D.C.’s Pentagon building. Nearly 3,000 people were killed, and 6,000 were injured. The attacks and the destruction resulting from it cost the United States not only innocent human lives, but $3 trillion. At 8:46 in the morning, American Airlines Flight 11 was hijacked by members of Al-Qaeda, who crashed the plane into the World Trade Center’s North Tower. About 15 minutes later, more Al-Qaeda members hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 and crashed that into the South Tower. United Airlines Flight 93 was crashed into the ground in Shanksville, Pennsylvania an hour later. At 9:37 in the morning, American Airlines Flight 77 was hijacked and crashed into the Pentagon in the nation’s capital.
1 JFK Assassination
The 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy was sworn in as Commander in Chief in 1961. Unfortunately, he only remained President until one fateful day in 1963, when he was assassinated during a motorcade in Texas. At about 12:30 in the afternoon on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas, Kennedy was visiting in an effort to ease tensions between his own Democratic Party and the liberal politicians in Texas. The President was shot two times, once in the back and once in the head. The 46-year-old President was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald - presumably - and was sentenced to trial. Yet Oswald was killed by Jack Ruby before a verdict could be placed. After Kennedy’s death, Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as President, and he acted quickly to investigate JFK’s death. It was concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald was guilty and that he acted alone and without a conspiracy.