Sept-8: Epic Freak Tragedies (Galveston, Honda Point and USAir Flight 427)

Deadliest Hurricane, Largest Peacetime Loss of US Navy Ships and 6th Deadliest Air Crash

Today marks the nation’s deadliest hurricane, its largest peacetime loss of Navy ships and its 6th deadliest air crash.  As outlined in Part 2, it is the anniverary of President Ford’s pardoning of former President Nixon and, as outlined in Part 3, the anniversary of the debuts and beginnings from the Pledge of Allegiance, Miss America, Star Trek and the Kennedy Center to the Siege of Leningrad.  It is also the day that one southern giant was fatally shot, while another was born.


Deadliest Hurricane in History Hits Galveston

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The Hurricane of 1900 made landfall on September 8, 1900, in Galveston, Texas.  It had estimated winds of 145 miles per hour (233 km/h) at landfall, making it a Category 4 storm. It was the deadliest hurricane in US history killing between 8-12,000.  Only 1,836 died during Katrina.

From As Terrible As Harvey Is, The Galveston Hurricane Of 1900 Was Much, Much Worse, Forbes:

There were too many bodies to bury so the corpses were weighted, shipped out into the Gulf of Mexico on barges, and dumped overboard. Shortly thereafter the bodies began to wash back onshore. The survivors and rescue personnel turned to constructing funeral pyres to burn the corpses. The fires burned day and night for weeks.

Adjusting for inflation, population and housing, it is the third costliest in U.S. history.

From Forbes:

Before the hurricane hit, [Galveston was a booming shipping, banking and commercial center known as the Wall Street of the West. After the city was destroyed, investors concluded the storm threat was too great to warrant substantial reinvestment in Galveston. They focused their attention on Houston after the discovery of oil in Beaumont in 1901 and the dredging of the Houston Ship Channel in 1909.




Honda Point Disaster Claims 7 Destroyers

hondaThe Honda Point Disaster was the largest peacetime loss of U.S. Navy ships. On the evening of September 8, 1923, seven destroyers, while traveling at 20 knots (37 km/h), ran aground at Honda Point, a few miles from the northern side of the Santa Barbara Channel off Point Arguello on the coast in Santa Barbara County, California. Two other ships grounded, but were able to maneuver free of the rocks. Twenty-three sailors died in the disaster

The area of Honda Point—Point Pedernales is extremely treacherous for central California mariners, as it features a series of rocky outcroppings, collectively known as Woodbury Rocks by locals (one of which is today named Destroyer Rock on navigational charts). Called the Devil’s Jaw, the area has been a navigational hazard since the Spanish explorers first came in the 16th century. It is also near the entrance to the sometimes treacherous Santa Barbara Channel, a popular shipping shortcut for vessels going to and from the ports of southern California. The channel is 12 to 25 miles (19 to 40 km) wide between the coast and the Channel Islands. The problem with the entrance to the channel is that it is one of the windiest places for mariners to pass through on the west coast. Winds and waves are often so severe that vessels choose to ride out the storms at the San Miguel Island’s small harbor. Waves up to 30 feet (9.1 m) high have frequently forced the closure of the small harbors at Santa Barbara, Ventura, Port Hueneme and Oxnard.

The entrance to the channel acts like a vortex, sucking the winds and waves of Pacific storm systems into the passage. The most dangerous area is from Point Pedernales eastward, along the stretch of south-facing coast (much of which is now part of Vandenberg Air Force Base’s Western Launch and Test Range), to Gaviota Creek, where U.S. Highway 101 meets the coast from the Santa Ynez Valley. Sea vessels can be blown ashore, or with the dense fog that is common on the California coast, ships can simply run aground when they lose track of their location.

The fourteen ships of Destroyer Squadron 11 (DESRON 11) made their way south from San Francisco Bay to San Diego Bay in the late summer of 1923. The squadron was led by Commodore Edward H. Watson, on the flagship destroyer USS Delphy. All were Clemson-class destroyers, less than five years old. The ships turned east to course 095, supposedly heading into the Santa Barbara Channel, at 21:00. The ships were navigating by dead reckoning, estimating their positions by their headings and speeds, as measured by propeller revolutions per minute. At that time radio navigation aids were new and not completely trusted. The USS Delphy was equipped with a radio navigation receiver, but her navigator and captain ignored its indicated bearings, believing them to be erroneous. No effort was made to take soundings of water depth. These operations were not performed because of the necessity to slow the ships down to take measurements. The ships were performing an exercise that simulated wartime conditions, hence the decision was made not to slow down. In this case, the dead reckoning was wrong, and the mistakes were fatal. Despite the heavy fog, Commodore Watson ordered all ships to travel in close formation and, turning too soon, went aground. Six others followed and sank. Two ships whose captains disobeyed the close-formation order survived, although they also hit the rocks.

Earlier the same day, the mail steamship SS Cuba ran aground nearby. Some attributed these incidents in the Santa Barbara Channel to unusual currents caused by the great Tokyo earthquake of the previous week.


USAir Flight 427 Crashes in Pittsburgh

USAir Flight 427 was a scheduled flight from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport to Pittsburgh International Airport, with a final destination of West Palm Beach, Florida that crashed on September 8 approximately 25 miles north west of Pittsburgh.  It was also the seventh deadliest aviation disaster in the history of the United States at the time it occurred; as of 2012, it now ranks ninth.

From Wikipedia:

The aircraft stalled and rolled upside down. Germano exclaimed “Hold on” numerous times, while Emmett said “Oh shit” frequently. Germano exclaimed, “What the hell is this?” As air traffic control noticed Flight 427 descending without permission, Germano keyed the mic and stated, “Four-twenty-seven, emergency!” The aircraft then rolled back upright, but after a few seconds on its side, the aircraft continued to roll while pitched nose-down at the ground. Emmett shouted “What the hell!” and the air traffic controller heard this. In an 80-degree nose-down position, banked 60 degrees left and traveling at 300 mph (480 km/h), the 737 slammed into the ground and exploded at 7:03:25 p.m. in Hopewell Township, Beaver County,[3] near Aliquippa. All 127 passengers and five crew members were killed.

Due to the severity of the impact, the bodies of the passengers and crew were severely fragmented, leading investigators to declare the site a biohazard.

The cause of the crash was a mystery and took one of the longest accident investigations in aviation history — lasting more than four and a half years — to determine its cause which was a seizing of the servo valve.  This seizing of the valve occurred in fewer than 1% of the lab tests, but perfectly explained all of the successive rudder malfunctions that caused the plane to crash.


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