Haunting Photos Taken Right Before Disaster
A photograph can be misleading. It can only capture a moment in time and yet tell an entire story. We like to use photography to remember special moments and occasions with our loved ones, historic moves, and sometimes, dark moments too.
What gets particularly unsettling is when we see a seemingly “normal” photo that was taken just before disaster struck. We’ve collected some haunting photos that were taken just before disaster struck and changed the subject’s lives forever.
A Good Deed Gone Wrong
Robert Overcracker, in order to raise awareness for the homeless in 1995, decided to deploy a stunt to get people’s attention about the issue. As a professional stuntman, he decided to drive a jet ski over Niagara Falls.
This photograph captures the exact moment that Robert’s parachute failed to deploy, leaving him to plummet to his death into the depths below.
Wall of Ash and Destruction
Photographer Robert Landsberg took his role as a photographer seriously until his dying breath. When Mt. St. Helen erupted, the photographer snapped a picture of the wall of ash that rose from the mountain’s tantrum.
Robert Landsberg did not survive the eruption, but his film did, and this was intentional on the professional’s part. While he came to terms with his own death, he used his body to shield the photos that he took.
Calm On the Top Chaos On the Bottom
This is a perfectly timed photo that likely captured the last moments of a bird’s life. While sharks are intelligent and curious creatures, meaning that there is a chance it was just poking around to see what it was.
We don’t know the bird’s fate, but this photo is definitely suggestive. To be honest, the bird likely did not survive. Circle of life.
There Is a Bomb In This Photo
In August of 1998 in a town called Omagh in Northern Ireland, a car bomb was set off in a political attack. The red car in the photo was carrying the bomb .
The man and the child in the photograph miraculously survived, though the person who took the photo did not live to see another day. The attack killed 29 people and injured another 220 others.
A Nurse Gave Her Life
A woman named Mayinga N’Seka was working as a nurse in 1976 during the first Ebola outbreak in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). This is her pictured below attending to an Ebola patient.
Mayinga N’Seka died only a few days after this photo was taken. She gave her life to help heal others. Rest in peace!
A Farewell to Planet Earth
The tragedy of Space Shuttle Challenger remains an important pillar in American (and perhaps the world’s) collective memory. The shuttle left earth and within 73 seconds broke apart and killed all seven crew members on board.
This photograph captured the last moments of the crew members whose lives were cut short in the pursuit of space exploration. Though their mission was not successful, it left a lasting impact. This photo is incredibly sad.
Youthful Mistakes With Big Consequences
We all made some silly mistakes when we were young, and luckily the ones reading this all lived to tell the tale. Not all of us are so lucky. A 14-year-old boy named Keith Sapsford made the biggest mistake of his life when he decided to climb into the wheel of an airplane.
Taking off from Sydney towards Japan, the plane lifted into the air, and Keith was not able to hold on. A new photographer was testing out his camera lens when he accidentally got a photo of the boy falling through the air, 200 feet from the ground.
Intentionally Poking the Bear
In 2009, a woman jumped into the Berlin Zoo’s polar bear enclosure. According to her ex-husband, the woman was suffering from depression and unemployment. He believed that this was a suicide attempt on her part.
She survived the attack, of which was witnessed by stunned onlookers. The zoo decided to press charges against her for breaching the peace and harming their reputation. She was able to recover from the mauling.
A Story Fit For A Scary Movie
Sometimes life is stranger than fiction and this is the case with the last photograph taken of those on board the Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571. The plane, which was coming from Uruguay towards Chile crashed in the Andes, but the nightmare did not end there. 33 of the 45 crew members survived the crash, but the number dwindled to only 16 due to the harsh cold weather and the wounds that were not able to be tended to.
After 10 days, the search was called off in search of the survivors. In order to survive, the remaining passengers were forced to do the unthinkable. Faced with starvation, they turned to cannibalism. The cold weather preserved the bodies of those who passed. After 72 days, two of the survivors gathered enough strength to look for help to return back for the others.
JFK’s Last Caravan
We live in a very different world than the world we lived in when John F. Kennedy was the United States president. This picture captures the last time the president would ever see the light of day and the last moments his wife Jackie and the rest of the world would see his face.
This photo alone would leave the viewer to see it as a happy moment in his presidency, but the moments that followed made a forever stain on the American public and the feelings of safety a sitting president did or did not have.
End Of the Magic
A famed magic show put on by Fischbacher and Roy was brought to a tragic end after a white tiger lashed out–as a wild animal will do, and attacked Roy.
The 2003 performance and subsequent attack ended with the performer partially paralyzed. Hopefully a lesson was learned from those who want wild animals to “act” in show business.
The Falling Man
For most Americans, the Falling Man lives in our memories of 9/11 in deeply unsettling and scary reminder of that fateful day. While the man is still unknown, his photo will always shake the cores of minds and hearts.
After a terrorist attack left the Twin Towers engulfed in flames, this man took his fate into his own hands and lept from one of the buildings.
A Hero Until the Last Moments
A man named William “Dave” Sanders earned the right and then some to be called a hero for the way he went out on his last day alive. During the infamous and tragic Columbine shootings, Dave ushered out more than 100 students to their safety.
Dave would not survive the horrific attack, later dying from multiple gunshot wounds to the chest. It is because of his heroism that so many lived to see another day.
Tragedy and Outrage
Originally published by the New York Post, this photo caused an angry stir when it was released to the public. The photo was taken moments before a man named Ki-Suck Han was struck by an oncoming subway train.
Many were concerned about the way the photo was taken instead of the photographer trying to help the man off the track. The photographer, R. Umar Abbasi was the person who took the picture. He claimed that he was trying to use his phone light to stop the train and captured the photo in the process.
Mick Fanning Rivals Chuck Norris
In one of the most stunning moments within the professional surfing world, Mick Fanning was confronted by a great white shark while in a heat out in the line-up.
Apparently, the shark got entangled in the surfer’s leash. Thrashing around near Mick, the surfer decided to punch the creature, ending the sheer terror from those watching from the shore.
A Chilling Act of Desperation
Though this photo was not taken in the last moments of the children’s lives, it is a photo that represented the moment these four children’s lives catapulted into disaster. The mother, Lucille Chalifoux, 24, can be seen hiding her face from the photojournalist.
Lucille and her husband, 40 year-old Ray, were facing eviction. Ray had just been laid off from his job as a coal truck driver and they were faced with potential homelessness. Unable to feed all of their children, they decided to auction them off. Within two years of this photo, all four children sitting on the steps, as well as the child Lucille was holding in her arms, were sold off or re-homed.
Moments Before A Fire Consumed the Venue
A band called Great White was playing in a Rhode Island nightclub called Station’s Nightclub when pyrotechnics caused a fire to break out inside the club. You can see in the left behind the bassist as the fire begins to set ablaze.
The fire ended up taking the lives of 100 people inside the venue. While the band had only intentions of creating an excellent show fit with fireworks and excitement, it went horribly wrong.
Eagles of Death Metal Concert
When couple Gilles Leclerc and Marianne Labanane took this selfie at the Bataclan Theatre before band Eagles of Death Metal were set to perform, they likely never imagined what was about to happen.
Moments later, four gunmen stormed into the venue and began to attack the crowd. Gilles threw himself on top of Marianne, saving her life. Unfortunately, he did not survive, but went out with heroism and love.
Into the Wild
A book and a movie were devoted to the man in this photograph, Christopher McCandless, who burned his money and took off into the wilderness to live a life off the grid. He hiked until he found an abandoned bus that he lived inside of for 100 days.
This was Christopher’s final self portrait. His decomposed body was found by a pair of moose hunters in 1992. His death was officially ruled as death by starvation, though many still debate how he died to this day.
A Public Suicide
In 1981 to 1987 a man named R. Budd Dwyer was the treasurer of Pennsylvania before he was accused of bribery and withholding taxes–a serious offense, especially for someone sitting in a position of power.
His trial was played out in the public forum and broadcast on live television. Budd brought a gun to the trial and took his own life on live television, reaching millions of people.
An Escaped Animal On the Attack
Having escaped the Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary in West Bengal, a bengal began to wreak havoc on a village called Limbu. While trying to recapture the creature a tranquilizer was shot into it, but it was not strong enough.
In this photo, the jaguar attacks a forest warden from behind. The man survived, but the jaguar did not. It was shot by the man nearby, ending the terror and fear. The situation is sad in many ways.
Princess Diana’s Sad Fate
Most are familiar with the ways in which the Royal British Family are hounded by paparazzi. Princess Diana’s incessant following of paparazzi is arguably what led to her untimely and upsetting death.
As the paparazzi chased her, her driver Henri Paul, her bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones, and her partner Dodi Fayed through the streets of Paris in August of 1997, the four tried to escape. Ultimately, while driving through the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris the trio crashed. Only her bodyguard survived.
Last Moments of a Terrified Woman
This photo is chilling as it is horrifying. Regina Kay Walters’ last moments were documented by the man who took her life. The positioning of her hands in the defensive position is enough to completely shatter anyone’s heart.
Regina and her boyfriend, Ricky Lee Jones, had decided to escape their day to day life in Pasadena and head south towards Mexico. While hitchhiking, they were picked up by an unassuming truck driver Robert Ben Rhoades. Robert had converted his truck into a torture chamber and became known as the Truck Stop Killer.
James Dean and His "Cursed" Car
Legend has it, James Dean lost his life due to his “cursed” car, a Porsche 550 Spyder. In this photo he is seen filling his gas up not long before he crashed and died inside the car.
After his death, the car was broken into different parts and sold to become a part of other vehicles. Several of those cars were involved in other accidents, leading many to believe that the car is cursed.
An Insurgent Uprising
This harrowing photo, taken by an unknown photographer, was taken in Cuba during civil unrest and uprising.
Fulgencio Batista, Cuban dictator, soldiers are seen taking the life of a man who was a suspected insurgent during the uprising. This photo captured the last moments of the man’s life.
The Complicated Last Moments of Archduke Ferdinand and Wife Sophie of Austria
Widely called the trigger to the First World War, Archduke and wife Sophie were assassinated shortly after this photo was taken. The assassin tried to throw a bomb under the royal’s car, but missed and exploded the car behind them. The Archduke panicked and took a cyanide pill, however it was faulty and caused him to throw up.
In a fit of panic, he threw himself into a river, which was too shallow. He was rushed away and survived. Later, he went to visit the survivors of the bomb meant for him. On the way there he was shot.
The Last Photo of John Lennon With His Killer
When Paul Goresh took this late-evening photo of John Lennon, he had no idea he was taking some of the final photos of the famed celebrity and Beatles frontman, John Lennon. But that was not the most jaw-dropping part of the photo.
The person in the photo, with Lennon, of whom he is signing an autograph for, is the man who would take his life later that night at point blank range, Mark Chapman.
“Leave no man behind” is an old adage that many of us have heard. For Darsh Patel, his and his friend’s decision to split up ended in his final moments. While hiking in the Apshawa Preserve in West Milford, New Jersey, a group of friends noticed a black bear nearby.
To try to confuse the bear, the group decided to split up. The 300-pound animal picked up Darsh’s scent and followed him, eventually catching up to him and mauling him to death. This was the photo that Darsh took of his attacker.
Unknowingly Capturing a Young Woman’s Final Breath
The couple embracing for a photo had no idea the kind of sadness that lurked behind them. While posing for a photo over Niagara Falls, a woman named Ayano Tokumasu stood over the famously massive and unforgiving waterfall and counted the last moments of her life.
Ayano, the woman in red, was a 20-year-old student who threw herself over the railing, falling to her death. This photo was the last photo ever taken of her.
Paul Walker and His Car
Here is a photo of Paul Walker, one of the stars of Fast and the Furious, entering into his Carrera GT. In this car he would eventually end up in a car accident with his friend, wrapping around a tree in the fatal crash.
This photo was taken in 2013. At the time of the crash, Paul’s friend was in the driver’s seat. Both died instantly.
September 11th, 2001
The world was rattled and upended in many ways when the United States fell under attack on September 11th, 2001. Two planes were intentionally crashed into the Twin Towers in New York, killing around 3,000 people.
This photo, taken moments before the second plane hit the towers, was a devastating moment from all those who watched with shock on site and through the television. It was a moment of realization that the first plane was not an accident, that New York was in fact under attack.
“King of Snakes” Bows Out
This photo was taken only moments before snake charmer Ali Khan Samsudin was bitten by the lethal and fatal grip of the cobra. Captured in 2006, Ali did not survive the bite.
As onlookers watched, the snake sunk its teeth into the snake charmer and ended his life. Ali was known as the “Snake King” in Malaysia. After being bitten in the left hand he died at 48 of his injuries.
A Free Dive Gone Wrong
A man named Nicholas Mevoli was attempting to dive 236 feet deep into the sea, unknowingly that it would be the last dive of his life. He completed the dive successfully and surfaced, giving those around him the “OK” sign.
Nicholas tried to speak but was unable and passed out. The diver never regained consciousness, dying the same day. He passed from a pulmonary edema, which is caused by too much fluid in the lungs.
Last Known Photograph of the Titanic Afloat
This is the last known photograph of the fated Titanic afloat before it met its tragic end. The “unsinkable” ship was setting sail from Southampton, England to New York in April of 1912.
Most are familiar with the infamous ending of the Titanic. It collided with an iceberg before splitting in half and sinking to the bottom of the ocean. It is estimated that there were around 2,224 passengers aboard. Of that number, more than 1,500 did not survive.
After exiting the ocean in Australia this man still could not shake the octopus clinging tightly to his back. If the octopus had chosen to bite this man his life would have been in great peril.
A bite from this kind of octopus can begin to affect the body within five to ten minutes, creating paresthesias, muscular weakness, numbness, and difficulty breathing. Luckily, the man was able to get the creature off of him safely with little harm and survived.
A Tragedy Compounded
A man named Joseph Avery was on the Niagara River with two other men when he crashed his boat. The two other men perished immediately, however Joseph was able to cling to a rock and save himself. He awaited help for 18 hours, but his plight was not yet over.
A rescue boat came from Joseph and they were able to reach him. Tragically, as soon as the survivor managed to climb into the boat, it capsized and Joseph was lost forever.
Pawns In a Game No One Wins
Dave Hally and his wife Kim Valley-Verhaugh were leaving for their dream vacation with their small daughter in July of 2014. The couple and their four-year-old, Megan, were set for Bali, Indonesia. This photograph captures the last moments before the Malaysia Flight 17 was set to take off.
Not long after the flight took off it was shot down by Russian forces while flying over Ukraine. Everys single person on board did not survive, although photos by rescuers were recovered.
Dangerous Fun Gone Horribly Wrong
Parkour enthusiast Pavel Kashin was performing a trick for the photographer when he miscalculated his movements. While trying to perform a back flip to the wall he landed, however he lost his balance.
Pavin was unable to get his composure back and ultimately fell to the ground to his death. It was an unfortunate and ultimately completely avoidable incident.
Flight 182 Collision
Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 182 was en route from Sacramento to L.A. and San Diego, California on September 25th, 1978 when it collided with a private aircraft over San Diego. Both aircrafts fell from the sky and landed into North Park, a San Diego neighborhood.
Flight 182 plummeted north of an intersection and killed all 135 people on board, as well as seven people on the ground in their homes, including two kids. The smaller aircraft, Cessna 172, also fell onto civilians, injuring nine people and damaging 22 residences. This is the deadliest air disaster in California history.