For this list, we’re defining engineering disasters as material failures or design flaws. These could be the result of insufficient knowledge or training, underestimations, or general human error.
This list is placed in chronological order.
1.The Vasa – 1628
[Image Courtesy of Wired]
In 1626, Sweden sought to impress the known world with their new ship – The Vasa. The ship held 64 cannons, was 226 feet long and could fire 650 pounds of ammunition from one side.
However, The Vasa ship never even made it out of the Stockholm harbor when it set sail in 1628. Top-heavy and awkward, it sank after encountering wind only less than a nautical mile from port.
2. Titanic – 1912
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Having an “unsinkable ship” sink devastated not only engineering minds but also the public at large. The British passenger ship struck an iceberg on her maiden voyage in April 1912. The event claimed the lives of over 1,500 people.
Was the Titanic’s sinking an engineering failure? For starters, the ship only held half the lifeboats originally planned. The captain set a high speed for the ship through an iceberg-filled environment.
Recent discoveries of rivets found suggest the ship’s paneling was held together with low-quality iron. By the parameters of this list, the Titanic was most definitely an engineering failure.
3. R101 Airship – 1930
The Hindenburg might be the most popular airship failure, but this disaster effectively killed the British airship program. The R101 served as one of two British rigid airships. It crashed in October 1930 in France during its maiden overseas journey. It killed 48 of the 54 people on board.
In the months following the crash, engineers couldn’t pinpoint the one cause to the fire which led to the craft’s demise. However, any problems reported before the crash were sacrificed in the name of sightseeing. Officers and crew were forced to fly the craft to India knowing she was not prepared.
4. Tacoma Narrows Bridge – 1940
Most major structures require some give in order to accommodate for wind speed and other natural forces. However, the Tacoma Narrow Bridge bounced so much that the public renamed it “Galloping Gertie.” Many attempts were made in order to strengthen the bridge and take the bounce out. In May 1940, engineers installed shock absorbers but the absorbers had little effect.
When the bridge collapsed on November 7, 1940, everyone had become so used to the bounce that no one expected the failure.
5. Apollo 1 – 1967
[Image Courtesy of Pics About Space]
A fire during a preflight test took the lives of three astronauts in 1967. Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee were scheduled to be the initial crew of the manned Apollo missions.
Three problems preceded the fire which swept the command module. Grissom described a strange odor after he hooked his oxygen up to the spacesuit loop, but decided to continue the test. Shortly after, high oxygen flow triggered the master alarm, but it was shrugged off by the crew. The last problem came from communications issues between Grissom and the control room. The communications failure got so serious that they held off on testing.
As the crew prepared to resume work, Chaffee mentioned “Fire, I smell fire” over the intercom. A few seconds later, White confirmed fire in the cockpit.
None of the astronauts had accomplished the emergency escape plan in the 90 second timeframe. As technicians rushed to the craft, the command module ruptured. NASA halted the program for several years following the failure.