When we think of horrible tragedy we tend to compartmentalize the event into something that couldn’t have happened anywhere else and to anybody else. In doing so we forget that there were countless regular moments leading up the tragedy and that some of them would be caught in horrifying detail on camera. We decided to pull together 33 of the most striking, haunting, and seemingly prophetic photos captured right before disaster fell. If you have an iron constitution then keep on reading because #8 left us with our head in our hands.
33. Death of John Lennon
John Lennon co-founded one of the most influential and successful bands of all time, The Beatles. This photo captures Lennon signing autographs on the day of his assassination. The fan eagerly awaiting his autograph is Mark David Chapman who would, moments later, shoot Lennon four times thus ending his life.
32. Omagh Car Bombing
This photograph captures a man and his child smiling happily on the streets of Omagh, Ireland. Situated beside the smiling pair is a red car with the license plate “MDZ 528”. Moments after this photograph was taken the red car would detonate due to a bomb installed by the Real Irish Republican Army. 31 people died on that fateful date including the photographer of this picture.
31. The Columbine Hero
It was April 20th, 1999 and a pair of students by the name of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were moments away from committing one of the largest school shootings in the history of the United States. In this photo we see a teacher named William Sanders rushing to warn students of the two active shooters. His actions would save hundreds of lives and for that he paid the ultimate price. Eric and Dylan killed 12 students while injuring 24 others. Sanders was the only teacher shot and killed.
30. Mystery of Elisa Lam
Elisa Lam was a Canadian student who went missing in early February of 2013. Here she is photographed in an elevator at the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles, California. The video from which this photo is pulled showed Lam talking to herself, contorting her body in odd ways, and seemingly hiding from someone. She was found dead in a sealed water tank on the roof of the building, stripped completely naked.
29. Air France Flight 4590
What makes aerial disaster so unsettling is the fact that rarely do people survive. The day was July 25th, 2000 when Air France Flight 4590 took off from its Paris runway on a trip to New York. Before the plane could even lift off a piece of debris caused a tire to blow which in turn destroyed the fuel tank. The engine would explode killing 113 people in the process.
28. West Milford Bear Attack
Darsh Patel, a 22 year old student, had decided to go hiking with a group of friends in West Milford, New Jersey. The students saw a 300lb black bear in the woods and stopped, seemingly from a safe distance, to take photos. However, the bear was starving and it would go on to stalk the students before separating Patel from the group. Patel was mauled and killed by the bear and this was the last picture he took with his phone. The phone had a tooth puncture straight through the device.
27. Patrick Swayze’s Fight With Cancer
Patrick Swayze was one of the great Hollywood icons of the ’80s thanks to his work on films like Dirty Dancing, Ghost, and Point Break. Tragically the Hollywood legend was afflicted with pancreatic cancer which lead to his death in 2009 at the age of just 57. This is one of the last public photographs taken of Swayze before his untimely death.
26. Lambert Tragedy
If you had taken aerial flight for granted before reading this list, you won’t now. William Dee Becker, the Mayor of St. Louis back in 1943, decided to take a ride in a military glider with nine other politicians. This photo captures the group right before their glider was released for what should have been a safe and slow ride to the ground. Instead one bolt came off causing a wing to disengage from the glider. The machine flew straight into the ground, killing all nine politicians.
25. Rhode Island Nightclub Fire
Nightclubs are notoriously crowded and dangerous places, especially when fires break out. During a concert put on by the band Great White the pyrotechnics would go haywire, causing a set fire to spread to exposed insulation. The fire would spread incredibly fast before engulfing the entire club, 100+ people would lose their lives.
24. The ‘Unsinkable’ Titanic
The story of the RMS Titanic really needs no introduction. Hyped up to be an unsinkable ship the Titanic would go on to become the most well known wreck in the history of mankind. This photo captures the Titanic just moments after it departed from Queenstown and it is said to be the final photo of the ship taken before it tragically sank, killing 1,500+ people.
23. Suicide of Ian Curtis
Joy Division was a famous English band known for their electric hooks, crooning vocals, and vaguely post-punk sound. Here we see their lead singer, Ian Curtis, posing with his newborn child on the eve of their first tour through America. Curtis was struggling with his health and his wife had just filed for divorce due to Curtis’ wandering sexual activity. Curtis would hang himself five days later.
22. PSA Flight 182
It was a clear day in September back in 1978 when Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 182 hit a Cessna plane in mid-air above San Diego. This photo captures Flight 182 as it plummets toward the Earth, its wings clearly aflame. 144 total people lost their lives, including 7 individuals on the ground.
21. Carterton Hot Air Balloon Disaster
New Zealand is a beautiful country and a hot air balloon company in Carterton was taking advantage of it by giving tours. However, tragedy struck when a full hot air balloon made contact with power lines, thus catching on fire. 11 people were killed in the accident.
20.1937 Memorial Day Massacre
Here we see a steel worker union peacefully demonstrating in Chicago. Moments after this photo was taken a group of police officers would descend on the group before opening fire, killing 10 unarmed individuals and injuring 30 others.
19. Paul Walker’s Last Ride
Paul Walker starred in the illegal street racing franchise Fast and the Furious. So it is both ironic and saddening that the beloved actor would die in a high speed driving accident when his Porsche lost control taking a turn.
18. Robin Williams’ Last Photo
You could spend months talking about the effect that Robin Williams had on the entertainment world. His charm was infectious, his humor was real, and he truly had a love for what he did. So when the comedian hung himself at the age of 63 the world was stunned. What followed was a story detailing his own struggle with depression, anxiety, and a recently diagnosed body disorder.
17. Notorious B.I.G.
Christopher Wallace, or the Notorious B.I.G., quickly rose to fame in the East Coast rap game. Considered to be one of the greatest rappers of all time, Wallace was killed just five years into his would-be legendary career. This photo shows Wallace posing with a gun just hours before he would be killed in a drive by shooting.
16. The Brazilian Priest
Adelir Antonio de Carli, a Brazilian Priest, was trying to break a world record for a little known event: cluster ballooning. His goal was to stay in flight for 19 hours, attached to 600 balloons. Instead, De Carli never trained to use his GPS and as such he was lost. His body washed ashore two months after take off.
15. Niagara Falls Ski Jump
Robert Overacker was a 39 year old Californian who was trying to raise awareness for the homeless by jumping his jet ski over Niagara Falls. Overacker’s parachute never deployed, however, and he was sucked into the water — later being pronounced dead.
14. Death of a Free Runner
Pavel Kashin was a famous free runner back in 2013 when he died trying to capture what he considered to be a fairly routine trick. Kashin was supposed to run up the wall and do a backflip, landing nearly in the same spot. Instead he lost his balance and fell 16 stories from the roof of the building. This is a photo of the trick that killed him.
13. Malaysia Airlines Flight 17
Right now political controversy swirls around Ukraine and Russia and most of it can date back to July 17th, 2014 when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down near their contested border. This photograph shows a mother and her young daughter posing for a photograph before takeoff. The death toll from this commercial flight is a staggering 298 people.
12. Freddie Mercury in the Garden
Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of Queen, is considered to be the greatest natural vocalist alive. This photo captures the legendary singer in his garden, posing with his cat, just weeks before his death from AIDS. Mercury denied his illness until his death.
11. Mount Everest Explorers
Today, in 2016, Mount Everest is the pinnacle of adventure climbing. Back in 1924 exploring Everest was close enough to a suicide mission as to make no difference. This is the last photo of George Mallory and Sandy Irvine still alive while exploring Everest’s North Ridge back in 1924. Everest would not have its first assent until 1953.
10. The Sultana Steamboat Explosion
Here we see the Sultana steamboat floating down the Mississippi River back in 1865. The ship would experience tragedy when three boilers exploded at once, killing 1,800 of the 2,427 passengers on board. It is the greatest maritime disaster in the history of the United States.
September 11th, 2001 changed the history of the entire world. 19 terrorists from Al Qaeda hijacked four different commercial flights in order to fly them into buildings around the United States. This photo captures Flight 175 just moments before hitting the South Tower of the World Trade Center. These terrorist attacks would kill almost 3,000 people around the country.
8. Final Photo of Regina Kay Walters
Regina Walters and Ricky Lee Jones were two 14 year old runaways when they were picked up by serial killer and rapist Robert Rhoades. Rhoades would kill Jones immediately but he kept Walters in his custody. He made her cut her hair and wear this black dress while he took photographs. He would later bring her to an abandoned barn and murder her. Rhoades had more than 50 alleged victims throughout his life.
7. Johnny Cash’s Last Show
Here we see Johnny Cash, the legendary singer behind ‘Ring of Fire’, performing his final show at the Carter Ranch in Virginia. Cash was 71 years old and already suffering from diabetes. He would die two months later from complications related to his disease.
6. Death of James Dean
James Dean was America’s own heartthrob back in the ’50s and he was revered by adoring fans around the world. Dean here is captured in a picture standing next to his beloved Porsche. Dean was an avid racing enthusiast and he was on his way to another competition when he lost control of his car and crashed, dying at 24 years old.
5. Japanese Flight 123
August 12th, 1985 saw Japan Airlines Flight 123 suffer from a catastrophic decompression failure. This photo shows flight attendants going through their routine instructions pre-takeoff. The vehicle would crash into Mount Takamagahara killing 524 of the 528 people on board.
4. Ebola Outbreak of 1976
Ebola is a highly contagious disease that leads to symptoms seemingly pulled straight from a horror movie. There is no cure. Here we see Nurse Mayinga N’Seka standing strong during the first Ebola outbreak, back in 1976. Days later N’Seka would end up dying from the horrific virus.
3. Death of a Soviet Traitor
This striking photograph shows Soviet soldiers killing a supposed traitor via firing squad back in 1944. There isn’t much back story for this photo and the fact that the ‘traitor’ is so young just elevates the heartbreak. War is madness.
2. 1961 U.S. Figure Skating Team
This haunting photograph shows the 1961 U.S. Figure Skating Team posing outside of their plane before setting off for the World Championship in Belgium. The Boeing 707 would end up crashing in turn costing the lives of all 72 passengers. The Figure Skating World Championship was canceled that year in order to mourn.
1. Hoover Dam Suicide Jump
Here we see Heather Papayoti looking out at the Hoover Dam from a bypass bridge. Though the photo is grainy it is actually from January 16th, 2014. Literally right after this photo was taken Heather would fling herself from the bridge, killing herself.