• Weird History

First-Person Stories From People Who Were At Famous Disasters

Whenever you hear about famous disasters - life-threatening or otherwise - you likely can't help wondering how you would behave in the same situation. Perhaps this is why there's no more absorbing way to learn about such events than from first-person accounts of regular people who were there at the time.

On Reddit, numerous riveting descriptions are available of some of the most famous catastrophes, near-catastrophes, and just plain fiascoes of modern times. These people were there as it happened, and this is what they saw.

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  • They Were A Passenger On US Airways Flight 1549, Which Ditched In The Hudson

    Redditor u/MicheleWinegar24D gave a harrowing account of her experience on Flight 1549, the famous "Miracle on the Hudson" flight dramatized in the film Sully:

    We had just taken off and... suddenly there was a big boom noise and the plane shook. I was sitting near the back, so I looked behind where the rear flight attendant was and saw she was moving around, and that there was smoke starting to come inside the plane. (To this day any burning smell that is out of place triggers my PTSD.) I could tell the plane was getting lower, like it was going to land, but I still had no idea what was going on. I kept thinking I should call someone, but then thought against it, because what if this was just something minor and I was freaking out for no reason...

    Then those words came, "This is your captain; brace for impact." My heart dropped and I felt every emotion possible. Fear, anger, sadness. I wasn't ready to die yet. I tried to prepare myself in case the plane ripped apart. Maybe I wouldn't get hurt and could swim for safety. (At this point I could see out the window we were going to hit the water.)

    The plane hit hard in the back, the water rushed up the sides making it dark, and a terrible sound of metal groaning as it bent. Once it settled a bit I jumped out of my seat and ran towards the back (my nearest exit). Someone was yelling to run forward, and I did as far as I could till there was a wall of people in front of me yell[ing] for everyone to hurry up. I looked down and [realized] the back was filling up with water and I wasn't able to move forward. I thought I was now going to drown. I stood on the seats to get as much out of the water as I could and climbed over them to get to the wing exits. The wings were full when I got there, but a man (Captain Sully, I believe) was standing up at the front yelling for us to come forward into the rafts up there.

    Looking out that door and seeing the [New York] skyline and the fact that I was in the middle of the river was an amazing [sight]. In the raft a man was holding his cell phone up so it wouldn't get wet. He let me use it to call my mom so she knew I was OK before she saw it on the news. I was one of the passengers that climbed up onto a ferry and was taken to the NY side.

  • They Were On The 'Costa Concordia,' The Italian Cruise Ship That Capsized

    Redditor u/GreenUmi posted responses from their mother, who was a passenger on the Costa Concordia, the Italian cruise ship that ran aground and capsized in 2012. These are some of her thoughts and reminiscences:

    It felt awful, because you are powerless and you don't know what is going on, and you have your child with you. You start to think what you are leaving behind and what will happen to those that depend on you...

    It was exactly like I imagined Titanic. The power went out and the pianist and violoncellist played "Arrivederci Roma." It was downright eerie. This was the same violoncellist that later helped people escape and was found dead...

    I will never feel safe again on such a big ship, but I will always be up to go on small sail boats (boats small enough to safely jump in the sea from) for cruises on the Adriatic Sea...

    I can say I have certain emotional effects. I will never step in [an] elevator again. At any point at work or home when I feel I don't have the situations in my hands and something may go wrong (any small thing) I start to panic...

    They were saying that it was just a power surge and that there is no danger and we should all just go in our rooms, but the workers repeated the code phrase "TANGO INDIA" between them a lot. We found out later that it meant that there is injured people. It was every man for himself. It was also awful that the first thing they evacuated from the ship was the casino's safe. And it was the only thing the company evacuated promptly and in order.

  • Redditor u/this_is_trash_really is the son-in-law of a Chernobyl emergency responder, and translated questions and answers on a Reddit thread. Here are some of the terse, no-nonsense answers the responder gave:

    Why do you Americans always ask about emotional trauma? What trauma? I drove a truck and camped out with a bunch of men and we moved tons and tons of heavy equipment from one place to another. We didn't know anything; how could we be traumatized?...

    I had no idea what I was doing at Chernobyl. We didn't learn for a long time what had happened. I was there and didn't really know what had happened. I had no idea it was any more dangerous than any other job. We thought it was an explosion and fire.

    But I remember that May 9th very clearly, seeing everyone out on the streets [for the annual WWII victory parade], watching the parade, enjoying time with their families, honoring the veterans. After we learned of what had happened, I couldn't believe the government allowed us all to be out there, for the parade to continue, to have all of those children outside...

    The first night we were there, I woke up in the morning feeling like I had the worst hangover in my life, but I didn't drink. That was strange, but that's really the only other sensation I remember...

    Chernobyl is definitely the worst thing I handled. It was the most dangerous thing I've had to do.

  • They Survived The 2010 Haiti Earthquake

    Redditor u/mediahacker was an American journalist living in Haiti at the time of the 2010 earthquake, which devastated the country and cost some 220,000 lives:

    I was in my room in a house I shared with four Haitian guys in a poor/middle-class neighborhood called Jacquet. It's just below [Pétion-Ville], near the now-collapsed Caribbean Market superstore. It was 4:45 and I [was lying] down, reading a book.

    I heard a rumble and the house started shaking violently, as if it was sitting on thrashing waters instead of solid ground. Everything fell off the shelves. A bunch of books started falling onto my laptop, so I ran over and grabbed it before a speaker fell onto the desk.

    The shaking went on and on. I had no idea what was happening. Even when it finished, it hadn't sunk in that it was an earthquake. It felt like something had happened that wasn't physically possible. When it stopped I grabbed all my multimedia gear and found my housemates outside... our house didn't fall, otherwise I'd be dead. But it's going to be demolished soon, because there are cracks running through the whole foundation...

    After the quake I walked a few miles to the collapsed UN headquarters... [I] arrived just after dark. I told other journalists and UN folks I was planning to walk downtown to verify the rumor that the national palace collapsed. They told me not to go, as there would be violence and it'd be unsafe.

    But I went, and all I found were people grieving, singing in the streets next to lines of bodies. Men took me aside from the main road (John Brown Avenue), [and] led me to a building where you could hear the faint cries of children beneath the rubble. These guys were trying to bore their way through the concrete with their bare hands, by the light of their cellphone screens. They weren't making much progress.

    I slept a few hours that night in an abandoned bus in the middle of the street, several thousand dollars worth of equipment in my bag.

    The reports of "looting" were exaggerated and hyped. It happened mainly in one commercial district in downtown [Port-au-Prince], called Chanmas. People were looking for stuff to survive. There were scuffles and fights here and there, but no widespread violence. The Haitian police, though, seemed quite trigger-happy and gunned down a number of so-called "looters" on the spot.