challenger crew with air packs

5 Tragic Deaths Caught Live on Camera

In Lists by Paul Shillito3 Comments

Reading Time: 8 minutes

5. Roger Williamson

This has got to be one of the saddest moments of a persons departure ever recorded. The event was the 1973 Dutch grand prix at the Zandvoort circuit in the Netherlands and the driver was Roger Williamson.

It was only Williamsons’ second formula one appearance after his debut at the British grand prix. As he was on his 8th lap, it’s thought that a tire failure caused his car to flip upside down and catch fire. Although he was not seriously injured by the accident it’s self he was trapped under the car as it was engulfed in flames.

Another driver and personal friend, David Purley, saw the crash and pulled over to help. As can be seen in the video he tries in vain to right the car but as there is no one to help he runs across the track to get a fire extinguisher from a marshal. Several marshals gather at the scene but just look on as Purley desperately tries to put out the flames, when the extinguisher is emptied he tries to get them help him right the car but because they have no protective clothing and poor emergency training, no one helps.

Purley tries to stop other drivers to help but they just slow down, drive on and to continue the race. The Cleary desperate and dejected Purley is forced to leave his friend to die in the burning wreck. It took eight minutes for the first fire engine to arrive and finally put out the flames but by then it was far too late to save Williamson who died of asphyxiation and the effects of the fire.

Purley later stated he could hear Williamson screaming from under the car, he was awarded the George medal for the bravery he displayed in his attempts to save Williamson.

After the accident, fire proof clothing was made mandatory for all trackside marshals so they would be able assist in the event of a fire and there was a noticeable increase in the number of drivers stopping at accidents to help in the rescue efforts.

Resouces :


4. Hillsborough Football Disaster

On April 15th 1989 a football match between Liverpool and Nottingham forest at the Hillsborugh stadium in Sheffield, England would turn in to the worst stadium disaster in English sports history and one of the worst football disasters in the world. BBC cameras were televising the match and the unfolding disaster was broadcast live to millions across the United Kingdom.

On that day 96 people were crushed to death and 766 injured.

The match was the FA Cup semi final and because of the reputation for football violence at the time between the fans of different clubs, a neutral venue was chosen. The opposing fans were sectioned off from each other by fencing them in pens and contributed  the problems that would ensue.

The crush occurred in the section allocated to the Liverpool fans, the entry to which was via only 1 of 7 old turnstiles. This led to dangerous overcrowding outside the stadium for those trying to get in before the match started.

As a result, Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield, the senior police officer at the match, ordered an exit gate to opened. This led via a tunnel to two already overcrowded pens.

As more people piled in to the fenced off areas, fans started to climb over the fences to escape the crush. Within a few moments of the match starting a crush barrier failed and fans fell on top of each other.

The match was stopped after 6 minutes and desperate fans tried to help other over the fencing with the injured being carried away on improvised stretchers made from torn down advertising hoardings.

Although 44 ambulances arrived only 1 was let in the stadium by the police, the rest were left caught up in the crowds outside.

After the event, senior police officer Duckenfield falsely claimed that the exit gate had been forced opened by the Liverpool fans. The police claimed that many Liverpool fans had no tickets, were drunk and attacked the police both outside & Inside the ground.

In 1989 The Taylor enquiry came to the conclusion that the Police reaction greatly contributed to the disaster due to poor judgement and leadership. Although the actions of individual officers in the grounds under appalling circumstances were praised it was high critical of Duckenfield saying that he failed in his leadership

After continued pressure for a public enquiry in to the disaster and over 23 years later in Sept 2012 an independent panel concluded that the authorities had tried to push the blame on the fans, had withheld important documents from the original 1989 enquiry and there had been alteration by the police of 116 witness statements.

Out of the 96 people that died, it’s now believed that up 41 of them could have been saved if they that received prompt medical treatment and more ambulances had been let in to the grounds. The report also showed that multiple failures by the emergency services contributed to the death toll.

On 19 December 2012, a new inquest was granted in the High Court which is now on going.

Resources :


3. Challenger shuttle Disaster

The challenger space shuttle disaster of January 28th 1986 not only ended the lives of the 7 crew but also dealt a huge blow to the NASA and American national pride.

The shuttle took off from cape Canaveral, Florida on an unusually cold January morning after days of delays and technical issues. The makers of the Solid rocket boosters (SRBs), Morton Thiokol were concerned that the O rings that sealed the joints of the would not work correctly in the cold conditions on the morning of the launch.

They held discussions with NASA managers and urged the mission be postponed but the NASA staff already frustrated by the large number of previous delays opposed it even though the O-rings in question were a Criticality 1 component, meaning that if they failed there were no backups and their failure would mean the destruction of the entire craft and the loss of all on board.

The O-rings had only been designed to work down to 12C, not normally a problem for the launch area in Florida but on this January morning, temperatures were down to -1C and as such the O-rings lost their ability to seal in the hot gases from the rocket fuel as it burned.

At take off a puff of grey smoke was recorded by launch cameras from the right SRB, this was hot gas leaking past the damaged O-ring, this temporarily sealed itself as the rocket fuel burned.

Later in the flight this would open up again to allow a jet of hot gas like a giant welders blow torch to burn through a supporting strut and puncture the external fuel tank.

However it was not the explosion that blew the shuttle apart. Data from the on board recorders showed that challenger had tried to correct for the damaged SRB which was now partially detached as the  damaged support strut broke and the main fuel tank leaked burning fuel from a hole in its side.

Just before the main tank exploded, challenger was ripped apart by the excessive G forces and the wind sheer resulting from the automatic corrective moves made by the main engines.

Within a fraction of a second of the break up the main tank exploded 73 seconds in to the flight at an altitude of 48,000 feet.

The crew module of the shuttle survived the break up of the launch vehicle and it’s now believed that most of the crew were alive as it fell back to earth.

Four of the 7 recovered personal egress air packs worn by the crew where found to have been activated and switches on the control panels which had lockout protection had been moved from there launch position.

However, whilst the crew may have survived the breakup and fall they could not survive the impact with the sea at approx 200 mph.

The incident was seen live by approximately 40 million people around the world and the subsequent investigation found many flaws in the safety and working practices at NASA and grounded the shuttle program for 3 years but ultimately it proved that the shuttle program was nowhere near as safe as NASA had lead everyone to believe.

Resources :


2. Shoreham Airshow Disaster

On august 22nd 2015 a Hawker Hunter T7 vintage jet aircraft was performing at the shoreham air display at Shoreham airport, when as it was completing a loop maneuver it failed to pull up in time and crashed on to a busy main road running next to the airport.

Its was the worst British airshow disaster since an accident at the 1952 Farnborough Airshow  that killed 29 spectators.

The aircraft involved was a 1955 Hawker Hunter T7 which was used by the RAF from 1955 until the early 90’s when they were retired. The aircraft which was privately owned since 1998 was a common feature of airshows around the United Kingdom.

The pilot on that day was 51 year old Andy Hill, a highly experienced Ex RAF pilot with over 12,000 flight hours and worked as a British airways captain. He had also flown the Harrier Jump jet and was an instructor for the RAF before joining British airways.

For the display, the aircraft started with a low pass along the runway, it then turned and flew the other way before pulling up into an inside loop. This maneuver started at a height of 200 feet which left little room for error.

Before it completed the loop, the aircraft came down in a nose high attitude on the west bound carriage way of the busy A27 hitting and destroying several cars.

The plane broke in the four parts and fuel from the tanks immediately ignited setting fire to many the cars that had been hit.

The pilot was thrown clear in his ejector seat and survived with serious injuries but 11 people in cars and on the ground at the location of the crash were killed and 16 more were injured.

An  investigation was setup and requested video and photos which may have been taken by the public and as such they received a large amount of recordings that had been taken from around the airport location.

In an interim report on the 4th Sept 2015 the investigators stated that “To date, no abnormal indications have been identified. Throughout the flight, the aircraft appeared to be responding to the pilot’s control inputs”.

On the 21st of December 2015 a second report stated that the aircraft had being flying with out of date ejection seat cartridges. Replacements had been ordered a year and a half earlier and arrived 3 months after the crash. Whilst this should not have contributed the crash as the ejection seat was not fired it did mean that the plane should not have been flying on that day.

On Feb. 3rd 2016 it was revealed that the pilot had been warned before about flying too low at previous displays and drifting over the crowds something which is prohibited and UK air shows.

At the time of this video be made The investigation in to the disaster is still on going.

Resources :


1. 1955 Le Mans Disaster

The 24 hour le mans crash of 1955 in France has gone down as the deadliest crash in motor racing history and it was also caught on film.

In 1955 the le mans track was pretty much the same as it was when it first opened in 1923 but back then car were only capable of 60 mph and by 1955 the race cars of the day were achieving up to 190mph and its this which had a major contribution to the death toll.

On lap 35 Pierre levegh in a Mercedes 300 SLR was following the leading Jaguar D-Type of mike hawthorn. Approaching the pit lane Hawthorne passed the slower Austin Healy of Lance Macklin and saw the Jaguar crew signaling him in for a pit stop.

He cut in front of macklin and slowed suddenly to enter the pits, this caused macklin to swerve across the track in to the path of Levegh who was travelling at approximately 150 mph.

Levegh’s Mercedes hit Maklins car from behind and became airborne, it flew over a protective embankment in to the spectator area before hitting a concrete stair well head on.

This caused the car to break up and throw the engine, bonnet and front axle in the crowd.

The bonnet decapitated tight jammed spectators like a guillotine, whilst the engine hit those who had climbed ladders and scaffolding to get a better view of the race.

The rest of the car landed on the embankment and caught fire, however the Mercedes was constructed of light weight magnesium which when heated in the petrol fire burst in to white hot flames showering the crowd in magnesium embers.

When the rescue workers arrived they were totally unfamiliar with magnesium fires and poured water on the wreck which reacted with the burning magnesium making the fire much worse and the car burned for several hours.

Levegh was thrown from the car but was killed in impact with the ground, in all 84 people were killed including levegh and 120 injured.

The race was continued in an attempt to stop departing spectators from blocking the arriving ambulances.

8 hours after accident and as a mark of respect the remaining Mercedes cars were pulled from the race, they invited Jaguar to also retire but they declined and went on to win the race.

Hawthorne was initially blamed as the cause of the crash but a later official inquiry ruled that he was not to blame and it had been just a tragic accident.

The deaths of the spectators were blamed on inadequate safety standards and the grandstand and pit areas were demolished and rebuilt.

In the aftermath Mercedes withdrew from motor racing and didn’t return for a further 30 years.

In order to avoid a similar accident from happing again, Motor racing was banned in France, Spain, Switzerland, Germany and other nations, until the tracks could be brought to a higher safety standard.

Resources :

Paul Shillito
Creator and presenter of Curious Droid Youtube channel and website


  1. Avatar

    The narrator sounds a lot like Michael Caine. Wonderful elocution. 🙂

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.