Farmer’s Field Transformed into Volcano, 1943
How do you think you would handle a volcano bursting up in your back garden in one day? It might make acquiring the services of a decent landscape gardener much trickier, for starters. A Mexican farmer by the name of Dionisio Pulido suffered a similar dilemma when a cinder cone volcano spewed up in his cornfield, 200 miles (320km) west of Mexico City in 1943.
For weeks prior locals reported a queer sound like thunder, yet observed no stormy clouds in the sky to explain the rumbling. Instead magma surging up towards the surface from deep below was triggering an ever rising crescendo of micro earthquakes which, on the eve of the eruption, had reached 25–30 per day.
Late in the afternoon of the 20th of February Pulido and his family were working the land when a thunder was felt, the trees trembled and the ground suddenly swelled; a jagged cleft between 2–2.5 m (6.5–8.2ft) wide opened up the fiery, volatile guts of the earth beneath. Pulido reported “…a kind of smoke or fine dust - grey, like ashes - began to rise up in a portion of the crack that I had not previously seen …Immediately more smoke began to rise with a hiss or whistle, loud and continuous; and there was a smell of sulfur.”
Aghast, he and his family fled to town. As night drew in witnesses described how “red flames of fire rose into the darkened sky, some rising 800m (2600ft) or more into the air, that burst like golden marigolds, and a rain like fireworks fell to the ground.”
24 hours later the Parícutin volcano had risen 50 meters (165ft) and, by the end of the week, it had burgeoned up to 150m (490ft), clouding the valley in smoke and ash.
Paricutin continued its baby growth for another nine years to reach its present height of 424m (1390ft). The damage she did to the surrounding area forced residents to flee and two new towns were built to accommodate them. In 1997, CNN included Parícutin in its list of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
Fortune Cookie Reveals Winning Lottery Numbers, 2005
You know how at the end of a Chinese restaurant meal you get a little fortune cookie to crack open with some lucky numbers and wise words of oriental counsel inside? I bet you could never imagine that your cookie message might ever win you the lottery, but this actually happened to dozens of state lottery players in Iowa, 2005.
In one of the mid-week ‘Powerball’ draws the expected number of Level 5 Prize winning tickets - $100,000 or $500,000 prizes - was 4. State Lottery Directors were absolutely flummoxed to find out that this time there were a whopping 110 winners, and most had apparently used the numbers included in a fortune-cookie message.
Doug Orr, Powerball Marketing Director reported “”With the systems reporting so many plays of 22–28–32–33–39 and Powerball 40, it is likely that most drew their luck from a very fortunate cookie. The cookie was one number away from winning the $25.5 million jackpot.” Odds of winning $100,000 prize were about 1 in 2.9 million, yet the seers at the cookie factory smashed those odds. They no doubt garnered a lot of fans of their cookies and sure made it a very expensive week for the good people of the Multi-State Lottery Association too.
US Airforce Almost Nukes Spain, 1966
The imagery of a nuclear fireball inspires awe and terror in equal doses; we all understand the capacity a massive ball of rising red flame, seen on the horizon, has to turn flesh to dust and obliterate anything in its proximity. The nuclear bomb’s destructive energy is a byword for the collapse of civilisation into Armageddon. Thus handling nuclear weapons is delicately done with many safeguards …but accidents are inevitable.
It was January, 1966 and the Cold War was at such an icy stage US B52 strategic bombers were being kept constantly airborne, ready to rain death and destruction on the Soviet populace at a moment’s notice. These big bombers were armed with four B28 nuclear bombs with a total explosive force of 6,000,000 tonnes of TNT; if any airborne accident were to occur the result of those nukes being destroyed could potentially kill millions and make vast tracts of the earth below uninhabitable.
The day was 17th of January and one of those massive, lumbering eight-engined birds vectored in to rendezvous with a KC135 air tanker at 9,450m (31,000ft). They were currently over Spain as the B52 took on its first of two refuels as part of a mammoth flight from its airbase in North Carolina, across the Atlantic and on to the Adriatic Sea, before returning.
The B52 came in behind the tanker, but too fast and the two aircraft collided with the nozzle of the refuelling boom striking the top of the B-52 fuselage. The airborne fuel tanker erupted into a massive fireball, killing all four of its crew and three of seven of the bomber’s crew, with the remaining three bailing out in time. Yet four nuclear bombs plummeted down with the plane wreckage. One of the highly lethal weapons plunged into the sea but the other three smashed into land.
Was Spain’s Andalusia province transformed into a radiated wasteland? Two of the bombs’ conventional explosives did detonate on impact, contaminating 1.0 sq mi (2.6 square kilometres) with radioactive material yet safeguards were in place to block a nuclear fusion reaction which would release the bombs’ destructive energy.
The Andalusians came very close to utter catastrophe, and still had a serious incident on their hands. The US Govt took responsibility for the recovery of the nukes and cleaned up the affected area by removing 6000 barrels of contaminated soil to the USA. Soon after the Spanish government formally banned U.S. flights over its territory that carried such weapons, and such long range B52 sorties were ended two years later.
Train Crash for Publicity, 1896
We know that one to two hundred years back, people’s faith in God and hardy living standards made them much more immune to the seductions of health and safety; they could be pretty casual about accidents occurring and should someone get killed in an engineering project, for example, then that was what one’s faith was for.
It was 1896 USA and a marketing guru was tasked with promoting train ticket sales to Texas, what genius idea did he pull out of the bag? To stage a train crash, of course! Sounding like a scene which should’ve made it into A Million Ways to Die in the West, the stunt was be held in the specially built town of Crush and the idea was to sell tickets so that people could visit the state and make a jamboree of it, with amusements and sideshows to the main event - 50,000 people attended.
The organisers weren’t dismissive of health and safety however, they took it seriously big time. Spectators to the crash rail track had to stay a whole 180m (200yards) back and reporters half that - I bet they couldn’t even make out the names on the drivers’ name badges they were so safely far away.
A specially built track was laid and the stage was set; two 32 tonne steam locomotives would be driven at each other, with time given for the crews to jump off before collision.
A local newspaper report described the scene: “The rumble of the two trains, faint and far off at first, was like the gathering force of a cyclone…They rolled down at a frightful rate of speed… Nearer and nearer as they approached the fatal meeting place the rumbling increased, the roaring grew louder”
Then the trains impacted: “…a crash, a sound of timbers rent and torn, and then a shower of splinters… There was just a swift instance of silence and then, as if controlled by a single impulse, both boilers exploded simultaneously and the air was filled with flying missiles of iron and steel varying in size from a postage stamp to half of a driving wheel…”
Debris was blown hundreds of metres into the air and panic quickly broke out as the crowd turned and ran. Some of the debris came down among the spectators, killing 3 people and injuring dozens.
In the aftermath the train company involved had to pay out tens of thousands of dollars in compensation to the crash victims as the spectacular event flashed headlines across the country.
Ultimately, the company profited enormously from the botched stunt however, which goes to show that infamy is often as good as publicity.
Gigantic Popsicle Floods Square, 2005
It was the height of a June Summer in the heart of Downtown Manhattan, New York where the possibly underemployed directors of Snapple, a soft drink manufacturer, made a brave but foolhardy attempt to surpass a Guinness record for ‘World’s Largest Popsicle’. Snapple mixed and froze a gargantuan icy doppelganger of its new kiwi-strawberry Snapple on Ice then the frozen treat was hauled by freezer truck from Edison, N.J to the Big Apple.
Crowds thronged Union Square with the hustle and bustle of city life around them, and enjoyed the shade its trees offered from the sweltering sunshine of June the 20th. The popsicle had arrived; this monolith of sweet, sticky ice 7.7m (25ft) high and weighing in at 17.5 tonnes was being raised by a crane to be stood upright, and with much fanfare.
The sweet celebration turned sickly, however, as it started to melt before it was even fully erect. Gallons of pink goo began to slosh down nearby streets and anyone who treasured their footwear fled the square. Cyclists and automobiles slipped in the ooze as fire trucks converged and the police closed off streets to contain the publicity stunt gone wrong.
The spectacle ended in farce when Snapple officials abandoned the Snapple-raising at a crowd-disappointing 25-degree angle, failing the record breaking attempt in the process. The mushy giant block was then trucked away before it could do more damage and a television-sized ice sculpture in the shape of the Snapple logo took its place.