On this day in 1908 – (107 years ago) – an enormous explosion ripped through the Pittsburgh-Buffalo Coal Mine near Marianna, Pennsylvania. The blast was so loud that it could be heard for miles, and hardware and debris from the mine opening was later found half a mile away. The explosion killed 154 miners. Only one survived. Experts later found that the explosion had been caused by an ignition of concentrated coal dust triggered by a routine dynamite charge being used to loosen the coal in a mine wall.
On this day in 1942 – (73 years ago) – the dance orchestra was about to begin its second set for an over-capacity crowd at Boston’s ritzy Cocoanut Grove supper club when a sixteen-year-old busboy in the downstairs lounge lit a match. Moments later, flames raced across the lounge ceiling and quickly spread up the stairwells into the main ballroom, which was heavily festooned with fake palm trees, bamboo furniture, cloth draperies, and paper decorations, many of which covered the exit signs. As fire spread to the restaurant kitchen, the refrigerators, running on flammable propellant due to a wartime shortage of freon, exploded. In minutes the club was a raging inferno as screaming patrons pounded on padlocked exits and jammed both sides of a revolving door, rendering it useless. Other unlocked doors which opened inward were also useless in the chaos, and a plate glass window had been boarded over. When firefighters finally got inside, they found 492 dead people – some charred to cinders, others still seated at tables with drinks in their hands, overcome by poisonous smoke. It was the deadliest nightclub fire in US history. Barney Welansky, the Cocoanut Grove’s mob-connected owner, was convicted of nineteen counts of manslaughter, and died of cancer after four years in prison.
On this day in 1979 – (36 years ago) – an Air New Zealand DC-10 airliner departed from Auckland on a sightseeing flight over Antarctica, having received erroneous flight programming information the night before. The airplane veered from its usual course, was caught in a whiteout, and crashed into Mount Erebus, the southernmost active volcano on earth. All 257 passengers on board the plane were killed instantly, along with the ten-member crew. Crash investigators later determined that the crew had been unaware of danger until six seconds before their impact with the mountain. It was Air New Zealand’s first fatal accident. The famed explorer Edmund Hillary had planned to be aboard the flight, but had canceled at the last minute.
Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi