Month Day
September 22

Train derails in Alabama swamp

An Amtrak train headed to Miami derails near Mobile, Alabama, killing 47 people on September 22, 1993. The accident, the deadliest in Amtrak’s history, was caused by a negligent towboat operator and foggy conditions.

The Sunset Limited train travels from Los Angeles through Texas to New Orleans before arriving in Miami, Florida. It is known for carrying older people who prefer not to make the trip by air or car. In the very early morning hours of September 22, the train was traveling through Alabama. Three locomotives pulling eight cars left Mobile at 1:30 a.m. heading toward Birmingham across a swampy area.

Meanwhile, the Mauvilla, a towboat operated by the Warrior and Gulf Navigation Company, was pulling six barges of coal and wood through the Alabama marshes. Andrew Stabler, the captain, was sleeping as the towboat and barges made their way up the Mobile River. Willie Odeon, another employee of Warrior and Gulf, was driving the boat, but did not know how to use the radar system. The boat had no compass or nautical charts to assist in navigation on the foggy night and, without realizing it, Odeon turned into the Big Bayou Canot, an area where barges are prohibited.

At 2:45 a.m., the Mauvilla struck a rail bridge. The bridge was only seven to 12 feet above the water (depending on the tides) and was in place so that trains could pass through the swamps. When the boat collided with the bridge, it knocked the tracks out of alignment by three feet. Several minutes later, the Sunset Limited came down the tracks at 70 miles per hour, hit the misplaced tracks and derailed. The three locomotives and the first four cars of the train plunged into the water.

The crew of the Mauvilla did not make a rescue call until 3:08 a.m., but did manage to pull seven survivors out of the swamp. Those who did not drown were put in even more danger when a fire broke out. Two of the disaster’s 47 victims died from burns. The Coast Guard did not arrive on the scene until 4:25 a.m., and it was another hour before the first helicopter arrived to assist in the rescue efforts.

The crew of the Mauvilla was severely criticized for their actions but escaped criminal liability.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.


Shaka Zulu assassinated

Shaka, founder of the Zulu Kingdom of southern Africa, is murdered by his two half-brothers, Dingane and Mhlangana, after Shaka’s mental illness threatened to destroy the Zulu tribe. When Shaka became chief of the Zulus in 1816, the tribe numbered fewer than 1,500 and was among more

U-boat devastates British squadron

In the North Sea, the German U-9 submarine sinks three British cruisers, the Aboukir, the Hogue and the Cressy, in just over one hour. The one-sided battle, during which 1,400 British sailors lost their lives, alerted the British to the deadly effectiveness of the submarine, more

Iran-Iraq War begins

Long-standing border disputes and political turmoil in Iran prompt Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to launch an invasion of Iran’s oil-producing province of Khuzestan. After initial advances, the Iraqi offense was repulsed. In 1982, Iraq voluntarily withdrew and sought a peace more

"Friends" debuts

On September 22, 1994, the television sitcom Friends, about six young adults living in New York City, debuts on NBC. The show, which featured a group of relatively unknown actors, went on to become a huge hit and air for 10 seasons. It also propelled the cast—Jennifer Aniston, more

So-called Midtown Stabber kills his first victim

Glenn Dunn is shot and killed outside a Buffalo supermarket by a man carrying a gun concealed in a paper bag. His murder was the first in a series of strange attacks in both upstate New York and New York City. Within two days, three other young men were murdered. One was killed more