CHARLOTTE, N.C., July 25, 2018. Whether by land, sea or air, July 25th is, historically speaking, not the best day to travel. There should be an official, internationally accepted traveling taboo, warning people against going anywhere on July 25th. Today, we remember the Concorde, the Granite Railway and the Andrea Doria disasters.
July 25th, 2000. Paris, France and the death of the Concorde
The most recent major July 25th transportation catastrophe took place in Paris in 2000. On that day, an Air France supersonic Concorde jet crashed during takeoff, killing everyone on board and four others on the ground. It was the first such incident in the 31-year history of the world’s fastest commercial jet. But it ultimately led to the demise of supersonic service for both Air France and British Airways.
On that fateful July 25th, Air France Flight 4590 departed Charles De Gaulle Airport with 98 German tourists and nine crew members aboard. The flight was en route to New York. Almost immediately after takeoff, the plane suddenly plummeted to the ground. Upon impact, it erupted into a massive fireball that left no survivors.
Aviation investigations later concluded the accident was caused by a piece of metal that had dropped onto the runway from a flight that took off just prior to the Concorde. The supersonic transport (SST) airliner ran over the metal shard as the plane sped down the tarmac. It shredded a tire, which was thrown into one of the engines and associated fuel tanks as the flight took off.
During its 31-year lifespan Concorde regularly crossed the Atlantic at twice the speed of sound, flying from New York to London in just under 3 1/2 hours. After that July 25th fatal accident, Concorde jets resumed service in November 2001. But the airliner’s lack of cost efficiency and an increasing series of other minor problems led both carrier-partners to permanently discontinue Concorde flights in October 2003.
Calling Casey Jones
More than a century and a half earlier, long before the advent of airplanes and jet airliners, the first recorded railroad accident in United States history took place in 1832 near Quincy, Massachusetts.
By the 1830s, Americans, had already adopted rail travel. In fact, by 1840, America’s 3,000 miles of existing track were more than a third greater than the combined total of the 1,800 combined miles of European railways.
Just prior to the Civil War, the U.S. railroad network had grown to include nearly 30,000 miles of track. Within the next decade, transcontinental rail service had become a reality, linking the east coast with the west across the vast expanse of the American plains.
Prior to that impressive milestone, on July 25, 1832, a small group of four guests were invited to observe the process of transporting heavy loads of stone by rail on the Granite Railway in Massachusetts.
While on the return trip after watching the demonstration, a cable from a vacant car snapped, throwing the tour group off the train and over a 34-foot cliff. Only one person was killed. But the others suffered serious injuries.
If not by land, then by sea
If you are superstitious and imagine that the above stories might indicate it’s safer to travel by ship on July 25th, consider another Massachusetts disaster. This one occurred in 1956 near Nantucket.
At 11:10 p.m. on that fateful day, a Swedish ocean liner collided with an Italian luxury liner in heavy fog. The disaster killed a total of 51 passengers and crew.
The now legendary pride of Italy, the sleek, modern Andrea Doria, was badly damaged by a massive hole ripped into the broad side of the vessel. But due to the ship’s advanced design, it stayed afloat long enough to save 1,660 survivors. Avoiding the fate of the Titanic, the ship’s passengers were miraculously rescued from the ship before it sank late the following morning.
A tale of two ocean liners
Built for luxury rather than speed, the beautiful Italian passenger liner Andrea Doria, was a showcase for state-of-the-art splendor and safety. Launched in 1951, its navigation aids included modern radar systems that were second to none. The ship was, in a way, Italy’s proud statement that its people had finally recovered from their disastrous involvement in the Second World War.
Less than half the size of its Italian counterparthe, Swedish liner Stockholm carried 747 passengers and crew compared to the 1,706 that sailed on the Andrea Doria.
Close encounters of the disastrous kind
On that fateful July 25th, the Italian ship, en route to New York City, had steadily encountered heavy, intermittent fog since mid-afternoon. As a result, the ship’s captain chose to rely on his radar to get him safely to his destination on schedule.
Elsewhere, the eastbound liner Stockholm shifted its course north of its usual route. The vessel’s captain hoped to reduce travel time. But in so doing, he also risked a potential close encounter with a westbound ship.
Despite the sophisticated radar systems on both ships, they weren’t quite enough to prevent disaster. The fault for the collision has been in dispute since that fateful July 25th, 1956.
Today, most historic accounts still blame the collision on human miscalculations made in both pilot houses. However, recent estimates have put more of the blame on the Swedish ship. In any event, given conflicting evidence, the fatal “Catch 22” that ensued still seems incomprehensible.
The Andrea Doria did spot the Stockholm on its radar. The Swedish vessel spotted the Italian ship on its own radar at a distance of about 12 miles. Unknown to either captain, the stage was already set for disaster.
Endgame at sea
What happened next seems to indicate a situation similar to one individual walking toward another where neither one knows which way to pass. In other words, despite radar indications, both ships guessed wrong about what the other ship would do until it was too late.
By the time both ships figured out what was unfolding, they realized they were traveling too fast to avoid a collision. Reinforced with a long, stiff prow for ice breaking, the Stockholm plowed into the starboard side of the Italian liner. The violent collision ripped a fatal 30-foot gash in the Andrea Doria. For a few horrific moments the smaller Swedish liner was wedged into the larger ship. But both ships’ momentum ultimately flung them back apart.
Within a few hours, the French liner Ile de France arrived to take charge of rescue operations. To this day, many still regard this as the greatest maritime rescue in history.
The Stockholm managed to limp back to New York. But the badly damaged Andrea Doria sank 240-feet to the bottom of the Atlantic late in the morning of the day after the collision.
The wreck of the Andrea Doria entices modern adventure tourists
Today, the wreck of the Andrea Doria is still a popular scuba outing for adventurous expert divers. Due to the presence of sharks and unpredictable currents however, divers often refer to the Andrea Doria as the “Mount Everest” of diving adventures.
As for the rest of you wary travelers, just remember that July 25 might be a good day to stay home.
Photo info: Via Wikipedia entry on Air France Flight 4590. Copyrighted photo from the Michel Gilliand collection. Permission granted via GNU license 1.2. Note: This permission only extends to photos taken by Michel Gilliand at this link.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.