History’s Most Horrific Disasters That Could Have Been Easily Avoided

The difference between an accident and a disaster is that humans can generally see disasters coming. As long as we’ve been around to make decisions, we’ve made the wrong ones. After something terrible happens, we look for answers and often we find that the fault was our own.

Maybe it was a manager who decided to cut corners and it came back to bite them in the butt. Or maybe it was a decision to ignore an expert’s advice that made everything come crashing down. Read on to see how these memorable and terrible tragedies could have been avoided if humans had taken a second to stop and think.

The Titanic May Never Have Sunk If The Binoculars Weren’t Locked Up

Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images
Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

Part of why the Titanic sank was that the ship was too close to the iceberg when it was finally spotted, so they couldn’t avoid it. As it turns out, they never had a chance to see the iceberg from afar.

The lookout men didn’t have their binoculars on hand because they didn’t have the key to the locker that held them.

The 1989 San Francisco Earthquake Had Many Warning Signs

Jim Sugar/Corbis via Getty Images
Jim Sugar/Corbis via Getty Images

The 7.1 magnitude Loma Pietra earthquake that rocked California in October 1989 was predicted by many experts. Earthquake scientists had tracked earlier tremors, and California knew they sat on the edge of two tectonic plates.

58 people had been killed from a similar earthquake back in 1971 but the state did nothing to strengthen the buildings.

The Challenger Space Shuttle Explosion Happened Due To Rushed Deadlines

Dave Welcher/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Dave Welcher/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In January 1986, millions of people watched the Challenger space shuttle explode 76 seconds after takeoff, taking the lives of the 7 astronauts on board. The explosion was a result of a flaw in the O-rings at certain temperatures.

One engineer, Bob Ebeling, warned NASA executives of the issue but they disregarded it because fixing it meant having to delay the launch.

Operation Barbarossa Was A Result Of Stalin’s Stubbornness

Sovfoto/UIG via Getty Images
Sovfoto/UIG via Getty Images

Operation Barbarossa was the codename for the Nazi attack on the Soviet Union in 1941. Up until then, the Nazis and Soviets had worked together in the war. Stalin had received no fewer than 100 warning from both the Axis and Allies that Hitler was planning to break their pact and invade.

Stalin refused to listen to the warnings because he didn’t believe it. He refused to believe the news after they invaded.

An Inexperienced Crew Cause Air France Flight 447 To Crash

Forca Aerea Brasileira via LatinContent/Getty Images
Forca Aerea Brasileira via LatinContent/Getty Images

Air France Flight 447 took place in an Airbus A3330. The airplane was one of the most technologically advanced for its time. The pilot and crew really only had to know how to work it for the initial takeoff and landing — the plane did everything else.

When the plane’s sensors got clogged with ice, the crew was so inexperienced that they didn’t know how to fly the plane without automation. It crashed in the Atlantic and all 228 on board were killed.

More People Died On Armistice Day Than Needed

Hulton-Deutsch/Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis via Getty Images
Hulton-Deutsch/Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis via Getty Images

The deal that ended World War I could have been put in place at 5 a.m. on November 11, 1918. All the negotiators had signed the armistice by 5:20 a.m. but for whatever reason, Ferdinand Foch decided it should be put in place on “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.”

In the six hours between, more than 11,000 extra soldiers died.

The Fukushima Meltdown Happened Thanks To Lazy Inspectors

KIMIMASA MAYAMA/AFP/Getty Images
KIMIMASA MAYAMA/AFP/Getty Images

Many of us remember when a tsunami hit Japan in 2011 and set off the meltdown of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. Three of the reactors melted down and thousands of people still can’t return to their homes today.

An investigation was put in place after the disaster and showed that “bureaucratic and professional stovepiping made nuclear officials unwilling to take advice from experts.”

Budget Cuts Caused The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

U.S. Coast Guard via Getty Images
U.S. Coast Guard via Getty Images

The single worst oil spill in history was a result of British Petroleum (BP) cutting costs for site inspectors. The disaster spilled more than five billion barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico and took 11 lives.

An external investigation later outlines nine different decisions made by BP to save them time and money that caused the spill.

Pompeii Could Have Escaped The Eruption Of Vesuvius

The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

You can’t avoid a dormant volcano suddenly deciding to explode, but historical accounts have proved that the citizens of Pompeii had plenty of warning. Mount Vesuvius has been tremoring and spewing light ash for days before the actual explosion.

Birds and land animals were also fleeing the city for days before the irruption, which should have been a huge red flag.

The Attack On Pearl Harbor Could Have Been Avoided

Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images
Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images

No, this is not a conspiracy theorist talking. Historians have proved that many of President Roosevelt’s top generals had warned him of a possible attack on either Hawaii or Alaska. Japanese planes were also spotted in both areas in the days leading up to the attack.

It’s even rumored that Roosevelt had a direct telegram warning him.

Hurricane Katrina Wouldn’t Have Been That Bad If The Levee System Worked

ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images
ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

New Orleans is essentially a city below sea level. It relies heavily on a levee system that keeps groundwater from getting into the city. The levees had serious design and structural flaws though.

Experts concluded that while Hurricane Katrina was a harsh storm, not nearly as many people would have died if the New Orleans levee system worked properly.

Officials Didn’t Evacuate Chernobyl Because Of The Cold War

ZUFAROV/AFP/Getty Images
ZUFAROV/AFP/Getty Images

The Chernobyl nuclear reactor failure was a disaster waiting to happen. The reactor itself had flaws in the design, the workers weren’t adequately trained, and the response wasn’t quick enough.

The radioactive fallout was even worse though because the Soviet government refused to evacuate the area. They thought if they evacuated, the West would think something was wrong and prey on the weakness for the purpose of the Cold War. The area is still inhabitable today.

Many Officials Warned The World Of The Rwanda Genocide

Scott Peterson/Liaison/Getty Images
Scott Peterson/Liaison/Getty Images

After the Holocaust, many world officials were on hyper-alert for other signs of genocide and ethnic cleansing. Unfortunately, no one listened to the Belgian ambassador to Rwanda.

They warned the United Nations nearly two years before the genocide that the Hutus were planning and operating death squads, but few people listened or condemned them.

An Analyst Figured Out Bernie Madoff’s Scheme A Decade Before Anyone Took Action

Mario Tama/Getty Images
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Harry Markopolos was working as a simple financial analyst on Wall Street in 1999 when his boss asked him to look into Bernie Madoff’s strategy so that they could duplicate it. Markopolos crunched the numbers and quickly realized it was an advanced Ponzi scheme.

He contacted the Securities and Exchange Commission and several journalists, but no one believed him. He tried again in 2005, again, no luck. Finally, in 2008, the financial crash exposed Madoff and his clients lost $65 million.

A Psychologist Predicted The Munich Olympic Massacre

Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images
Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

Any big event is aware of every worst-case scenario. In the case of the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, they employed police psychologist Georg Sieber to run through some disastrous possibilities.

His 21st scenario involved a group of armed Palestinians infiltrating the complex in the early hours and taking Israeli athletes hostage. The actual attack happened on September 5th at 4:10 a.m.

The Dust Bowl Was Completely Man Made

Photo 12/UIG via Getty Images
Photo 12/UIG via Getty Images

The disastrous dust storms that happened from 1930-1940 in the Great Plains was entirely due to bad information and new farmers. In the 1920s, many east-coasters moved inwards to farm the lush lands of the Great Plains. Unfortunately, they didn’t realize the rain was uncharacteristic.

When weather went back to normal in the 1930s, all the topsoil they had farmed made for a bunch of easy dust for the wind to kick up.

The Club Owners Were Found Guilty For The Kiss Nightclub Fire

JEFFERSON BERNARDES/AFP/Getty Images
JEFFERSON BERNARDES/AFP/Getty Images

In the early morning hours of January 27, 2013, the Kiss Nightclub in Brazil erupted into flames and killed 242 students. It was so bad that witnesses said it looked like a war zone.

An investigation afterward showed the club did not have emergency exits or a permit to use fireworks inside. One of the club owners showed his guilt when he attempted to commit suicide while under arrest.

Pressure On Management Caused The New Zealand Coal Mine Collapse

Simon Baker-Pool/Getty Images
Simon Baker-Pool/Getty Images

The Pike River coal mine in New Zealand was one of the most valuable exports for the country at the time. The managers of the mine had a lot of pressure to produce as much coal as possible.

As a result, they didn’t send off the machinery for routine fixes and inspections. The machinery exploded and caused 29 miners to be trapped inside.

Two Mountaineers Tried To Warn Peru Of The Yungay Avalanche

Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images
Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

Avalanches can happen on any mountain, but the Yungay Avalanche of 1970 killed more than 20,000 residents and traveled up to 120 mph. Eight years before the avalanche, two mountaineers noticed a large amount of loose bedrock near a glacier.

They knew the area was prone to earthquakes and warned the Peruvian government that if the bedrock moves, they’d be in big trouble. Unfortunately, the government didn’t listen and the result was a massive avalanche and earthquake.

The Imperial Foods Disaster Was Thanks To Cruel Management

@enwikipedia/Twitter
@enwikipedia/Twitter

The Imperial Foods processing plant in Hamlet, North Carolina supplied chicken nuggets for fast food chains. In 1991, they were having an issue with flies getting into the plant. So owner Emmett Roe decided the easiest solution was to padlock all the doors.

On September 3, 1991, a fire broke out and all the employees had to escape through only two unlocked doors. 25 employees died thanks to Roe’s incompetence.