Junyo Maru Tragedy – 1944

In World War II the Japanese treated captives with extreme cruelty, and never was this more evident than when prisoners of war (POWs) were moved around the Pacific in rust bucket steamers from one forced-labor assignment to another. In defiance of the Geneva Convention, these hellish transports carried no red cross to identify them as prison ships, so many were sunk by Allied aircraft or submarines. This resulted in thousands of prisoners dying by ‘friendly fire’.

No single disaster equaled that of Junyo Maru. The old single-stack steamer had been built before World War I and was just over 120 m (400 ft) long. In September 1944 she was sailing up the west coast of Java from Batavia (now Jakarta) to Padang, where her human cargo would work on the infamous Sumatra Railway, intended to transport coal from coast to coast. At least 6,500 unfortunate people had been packed aboard, comprising around 2,300 POWs – British, Dutch, Australian, Indonesian and American – together with 4,200 Javanese slave laborers. Conditions aboard were indescribably bad, with minimal latrine facilities and an acute shortage of water, compounded by sardine-like overcrowding.

The efforts of two escort ships were desultory. It was a serious omission. The British Triton-class submarine Tradewind was lurking and – with no idea what Junyo Maru was carrying – fired four torpedoes. Two struck home, causing pandemonium as packed prisoners fought to escape bamboo cages in the holds. Life rafts were tossed overboard but Junyo Maru settled quickly, the bow rose and she sank by the stern. As men in the water struggled to survive, the night filled with the desperate cries of dying men. When dawn broke and survivors were picked up, the extent of this terrible tragedy became apparent. More than 5,500 had gone down with the ship or died in the water.

When was the Junyo Maru Tragedy: September 18 1944

Where was the Junyo Maru Tragedy: Off Java, Pacific Ocean

What was the Junyo Maru Tragedy death toll: Around 1,500 POWs died, along with more than 4,000 Javanese and some Japanese guards and crew.

You should know: Survival didn’t mean relief. The few remaining Javanese romushas (slave laborers) were worked to death, and barely 100 of 700 POWs saved from the sea survived the brutal conditions and intense heat of the Sumatra Railway construction camps.


The Munich Olympics Disaster – 1972

Whichever way you look at it, the Munich Olympiad of 1972 was tinged with a terrible irony. It was the first time Germany had hosted the event since the charade of the 1936 Nazi Games. The self-proclaimed ‘Happy Games’ had a logo of a sun spreading rays of hope for the future. It should have been an occasion remembered for the record-breaking seven gold medals won by swimmer Mark Spitz. However the Munich Games will go down in history for a brutal and audacious act of terrorism that had repercussions far beyond the Olympic Village.

On the morning of September 5, eight Black September Palestinian commandos dodged past lax security and took 11 Israeli athletes and officials hostage. Two of the hostages fought back and were killed immediately. The remainder were held in an increasingly tense stand-off that was to last throughout the day. Under the guise of a deal to take the captors and their hostages to a safe haven in the Middle East, a rescue attempt was launched. The German authorities had little experience of counter-terrorism at the time and things quickly went wrong. All of the remaining nine hostages were killed as well as a German policeman. Five of the attackers died and three were arrested.

Incredibly, the Olympic events were allowed to continue throughout the day. The president of the host’s organizing committee lobbied for the remainder of the Games to be cancelled but, with the endorsement of the Israeli government, International Olympic Committee President Avery Brundage announced that ‘the Games must go on. A remembrance service was held the following day at a packed Olympic Stadium and the Games resumed. In retaliation, the Israelis launched ‘Operation Wrath of God’ to kill those involved in planning the assault, further polarizing Middle East opinion.

When was the Munich Olympics Disaster: September 5 1972

Where was the Munich Olympics Disaster: Munich, Germany

What was the Munich Olympics Disaster death toll: 17

You should know: The star athlete of the games, Mark Spitz, himself a Jew and therefore a possible target, was flown out of Germany before the closing ceremony. The three arrested Palestinians were released from custody in October to meet the demands of hijackers of a Lufthansa airplane.


Southern Airways Flight 932 – Marshall University Football Team Tragedy – 1970

College football is hugely important on the American sporting scene, attracting and showcasing the brightest and best future pro footballers, with success enhancing the reputation of institutions they represent. In 1970, West Virginia’s Marshall University at Huntingdon ran the Thundering Herd football team. Most away games were easily reached by road from campus, and that year’s game against East Carolina Pirates was the one-and-only time the footballers travelled by plane. The score at Greenville’s Ficklen Stadium was 17-14 in favor of the home team, so the football squad’s mood on the return flight was subdued.

The aircraft was a chartered twin-engined Southern Airways DC-9 capable of seating 95, though it was not full. Even so, quite a number of local supporters had joined the team for the rare airborne excursion, so Flight 932 was carrying 75 souls.

The weather was not ideal, with controllers reporting rain, fog and ragged cloud in the area of Huntingdon’s Tri-State Airport at Ceredo – conditions that would make a landing tricky but still perfectly feasible.

At 19.34 the crew reported passing Tri-State’s outer runway marker and were given landing clearance. Seconds later, the DC-9 clipped treetops and ploughed into a hillside, bursting into flames and gouging out a charred impact zone 30 m (98 ft) wide by 85 m (280 ft) long. It was a crash described by investigators as ‘unsurvivable’, and instantly became the worst sports-related air disaster in American history.

The entire 37-man Marshall football squad perished, along with eight coaches, 25 prominent Huntingdon citizens (including a city councilor, state legislator and several doctors), four flight crew an one charter company representative. Many of the victims were interred at Spring Hill Cemetery after a mass funeral, some together; classes at Marshall University were cancelled and condolences were received from all over the USA.

When was the Southern Airways Flight 932 – Marshall University Football Team Tragedy: November 14 1970

Where was the Southern Airways Flight 932 – Marshall University Football Team Tragedy: Ceredo, West Virginia, USA

What was the Southern Airways Flight 932 – Marshall University Football Team Tragedy death toll: 75

You should know: The enduring effect of this tragic air crash on the local community may be judged by the fact that victims are still mourned at an annual ceremony on Marshall University’s campus, in addition, the Huntingdon street where Spring Hill Cemetery with its commemorative cenotaph is located was renamed Marshall Memorial Boulevard and Marshall’s Joan C Edwards football stadium has a large bronze memorial. There’s also a memorial fountain and student center on campus, while a plaque was dedicated at the crash site as recently as 2006.


Ataturk Stadium Disaster – 1967

There had always been keen competition for regional supremacy between the neighboring Turkish cities of Kayseri and Sivas, but this had never spilled over into serious violence – until 1967. Provincial amateur football clubs were encouraged to merge in the mid 1960s to create single dubs capable of holding their own in the new Second Football League, a nationwide third tier for Turkish -professional football.

Three clubs in each city amalgamated to form Kayseri Erciyesspor and Sivasspor respectively. They went toe-to-toe for the first time in September 1967, providing the perfect opportunity for rival fans to strut their stuff – a confrontation inflamed by the fact that both teams were sharing top spot in the league. Around 5,000 supporters of Sivasspor headed for Kayseri the day before the match, flooding bars and less salubrious houses of entertainment. Quarrels broke out, fans were stabbed and police made 50 arrests.

Suitably forewarned, security forces ringed the Ataturk Stadium on match day, searching spectators and removing assorted weaponry. When the match began at 16.00, tension among the 21,000 spectators was palpable, exploding into violence when Kayseri Erciyesspor scored after 20 minutes. Scuffles broke out among the players and the crowd responded. Rival fans exchanged a hail of unconfiscated rocks and missiles, before the outnumbered Sivasspor contingent tried to escape. In the ensuing stampede, 40 spectators died and over 300 were injured.

A general riot broke out, the referee abandoned the game and the two teams were locked into their dressing rooms to protect them from the angry mob. Sivasspor fans who got out of the stadium in one piece indulged in a little gentle window-smashing and vehicle-binning as they raced back to their coaches and headed for home, leaving a few of their compatriots behind to fight running battles with Kayseri fans.

When was the Ataturk Stadium Disaster: September 17 1967

Where was the Ataturk Stadium Disaster: Kayseri, Central Anatolia, Turkey

What was the Ataturk Stadium Disaster death toll: 40 (including 38 from Sivas), with Sivasspor supporters also featuring most prominently on the injury list.

You should know: Tragic events in Kayseri were just a starting point Turkey’s worst-ever sports-related violence really got into its stride. In Sivas, where enraged inhabitants rioted for days, burning buildings, plundering shops and vandalizing pretty much everything they could lay hands on, with particular reference to the many properties owned by Kayseri folk. Two more people died in the week-long rampage.


Lima National Stadium Riot – 1964

As hosts of the South American qualifying section for the 1964 Olympics, Peru had high hopes of filling one of the top two spots that would ensure their place at the Tokyo Olympic Games. They had, after all, qualified for the previous Olympics in Rome. Their campaign kicked off with an inauspicious 1-1 draw with Ecuador, but by the time they confronted their perpetual nemesis, Argentina, they had dispatched Colombia and Uruguay. Argentina, on the other hand, brought with them a perfect record and Brazil lurked just beneath Peru in the table. Getting a result of some sort was crucial.

After a first half that brought stalemate, the game sprang into life when the Argentine Manfredi scored in the 60th minute. The home crowd then grew increasingly passionate as Peru strove for an equalizer. With minutes to go, their prayers seemed to have been answered as the ball crossed the Argentinian goal line. The stadium erupted, first with joy and then with fury, as the referee disallowed the goal. That fateful decision sparked what stands as the worst riot ever witnessed at a sports event.

Two fans ran onto the pitch to attack the referee and many more surged forward. The police, who were greatly outnumbered, responded by firing tear gas. The scene rapidly descended into chaos. The crowd grew ever more enraged and were soon in a mood to fight. Fires were started in the stands and a mob began smashing up the stadium. The police responded by firing live rounds over the heads of the rioters. By now in a state of total panic, the majority of the spectators attempted to leave the stadium, only to find their way blocked by firmly closed iron gates. In the ensuing crush hundreds lost their lives and even more sustained serious injuries.

When was the Lima National Stadium Riot: May 24 1964

Where was the Lima National Stadium Riot: National Stadium, Lima, Peru

What was the Lima National Stadium Riot death toll: 318 dead, more than 500 injured

You should know: Once the fans finally escaped from the stadium, thousands of them marched on the Presidential Palace to call for the match to be declared a draw. Such was their crazy passion for football that they cared less for the dead and the dying than they did for the result rather than being kicked out of the tournament the team was invited to play Brazil for the final berth at the Olympics. The game was held in Rio and Peru lost 4-0.


Loss of the US Figure Skating Team – 1961

The US figure skating team of 1961 contained the golden girls and boys of their generation. That year’s National Championships were the first to be screened nationwide on CBS’s Sunday Sports Spectacular. Before the media exposure, the athletes were little known outside their sport, but by the end of the broadcast many were household names. Their grace and athleticism impressed a large TV audience and the sport’s profile was high. With success in their sights, the team, along with a large entourage of coaches and family, headed to the World Championships in Prague.

Watching them as they posed for photographs on the steps of Sabena Flight 548 at New York’s Idlewild Airport, nobody could have dreamed it was to be the last their admiring public would see of them. The plan was to fly to Brussels and then catch a connecting flight to Prague. On the approach into the Belgian capital the pilot overshot the runway and angled around to make a second attempt. Something had gone badly wrong with the flight controls and the plane came down in a nearby field, killing all on board as well as a farmer tending his cabbage field. The crash had a devastating effect on the tight-knit skating community, and the championships in Prague were called off. Among the dead was the nine-times US ladies champion Maribel Vinson-Owen together with her two daughters.

The disaster had a galvanizing effect on the sport of figure skating in America. With the loss of so many coaches and athletes, the US authorities decided to reach out far and wide to help the sport get going again. Overseas coaches were brought in and children across the nation were encouraged to take lessons. What had previously been regarded as a Boston-based sport now became a truly national pastime.

When was the Loss of the US Figure Skating Team: February 15 1961

Where was the Loss of the US Figure Skating Team: Brussels, Belgium

What was the Loss of the US Figure Skating Team death toll: 73

You should know: The American authorities were so alarmed by the crash that they sent FBI officers to Belgium to help with the investigation. Though the final report into the crash was inconclusive, pilot error was ruled out.