Year
1974

Train crashes into station in Yugoslavia

A train entering a Zagreb, Yugoslavia, station derails, killing 153 people, on this day in 1974. It was the worst rail accident in the country’s history to that date and remains one of the worst in Europe’s history.

The express train from Belgrade to Dortmund was filled mostly with workers returning to their jobs in West Germany after taking summer vacations when it pulled away with 400 passengers that evening. Two engineers were in charge of the electric locomotive leading the passenger cars. As the train approached the Zagreb station, it had to negotiate a curve and should have slowed to 30 miles per hour. However, the engineers not only failed to slow the train, but went through a red signal at about 60 mph. There was some dispute as to whether the engineers were drunk or had just fallen asleep; it is known for certain that they had already worked 300 hours each that month and may have been suffering from fatigue.

The train, traveling far too fast, crashed into the platform at the Zagreb station and derailed. The scene was horrific, a mess of bodies and crushed metal. Even worse, the train brought down power lines, which then electrocuted some of the passengers. Many of the survivors were trapped and it took hours before they were rescued. The identification of bodies was very difficult and although authorities attempted to use dental records to assist in the effort, they proved useful in only 5 percent of the identifications. The best estimate is that 153 people died in the crash, but some reports indicate up to 175 deaths may have resulted. President Marshal Tito declared a national day of mourning in response to the disaster.

During the subsequent investigation, it was shown that the train’s brakes were in full working order; the disaster was blamed solely on the engineers. They received prison terms of 15 and eight years.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Washington refuses Howe’s letter

On this day in 1776, General George Washington gives the New York Convention three reasons for the American retreat from Long Island. That same day, he rejects British General William Howe’s second letter of reconciliation. With Howe and a superior British force having recently ...read more

First African American in space

U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Guion S. Bluford becomes the first African American to travel into space when the space shuttle Challenger lifts off on its third mission. It was the first night launch of a space shuttle, and many people stayed up late to watch the spacecraft ...read more

Vladimir Lenin shot

After speaking at a factory in Moscow, Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin is shot twice by Fanya Kaplan, a member of the Social Revolutionary party. Lenin was seriously wounded but survived the attack. The assassination attempt set off a wave of reprisals by the Bolsheviks against the ...read more

MacArthur arrives in Japan

On this day in 1945, Gen. Douglas MacArthur lands in Japan to oversee the formal surrender ceremony and to organize the postwar Japanese government. The career of Douglas MacArthur is composed of one striking achievement after another. When he graduated from West Point, ...read more

Ho Chi Minh responds to Nixon letter

Ho Chi Minh’s reply to President Nixon’s letter of July 15 is received in Paris. Ho accused the United States of a “war of aggression” against the Vietnamese people, “violating our fundamental national rights” and warned that “the longer the war goes on, the more it accumulates ...read more

Elections held in South Vietnam

An estimated 6 million South Vietnamese cast ballots for 30 seats at stake in the Senate elections. While the voting was going on, Communist forces attacked at least 14 district towns, a provincial capital, and several polling places. Fifty-five civilians were reported killed ...read more

Casey Stengel retires

On this day in 1965, New York Mets Manager Casey Stengel announces his retirement, ending his 56-year career in professional baseball. The 75-year-old Stengel had broken his hip in a fall the previous month, and was instructed by his doctor that resuming the duties of manager ...read more

Apache Chief Diablo is killed

Diablo, a chief of the Cibecue Apache, is killed during a battle with a competing band of Indians. Known as Eskinlaw to his own people, Diablo was a prominent chief of the Cibecue Apache, who lived in the White Mountains of Arizona. Initially, Diablo had attempted to cooperate ...read more

Henry James returns to the U.S.

Henry James returns to the U.S. for a visit after living abroad for two decades. James was born to a wealthy and eccentric philosopher father in 1843 in New York, N.Y. His older brother, William, became the country’s first distinguished psychologist as well as a well-known ...read more

Movie tough guy Charles Bronson dies

On this day in 2003, the actor Charles Bronson, best known for his tough-guy roles in such films as The Dirty Dozen and the Death Wish franchise, dies at the age of 81 in Los Angeles. Bronson was born Charles Buchinsky on November 3, 1921, in Ehrenfeld, Pennsylvania, to ...read more

A murdering couple is sentenced to death

Cynthia Coffman and James Marlow are sentenced to death in San Bernardino, California, for the 1986 murder of Corinna Novis. Coffman was the first woman to receive a death sentence in the state since capital punishment was reinstated in 1977. Coffman first met Marlow in May 1986, ...read more