Shocking disasters of the 20th century: From Hindenburg to Le Mans, historic Pathe footage reveals events which shook the world

March 9, 2013 5:27 pm 110 comments Views: 362

With a self-designed parachute strapped to his back, the visibly nervous inventor teeters on a ledge at the top of the Eiffel Tower.

Moments later, the flickering black and white footage shows Franz Reichelt launching himself from the tower to test his creation – and plummeting to his death.

The eerie silent clip, captured in Paris in 1912, is just one example of a host of notorious tragedies to unfold as Pathe News cameras were rolling in decades past.

Eerie: Pathe News was invited to witness Austrian inventor Franz Reichelt test his parachute design by jumping from the Eiffel Tower in 1912

Tragedy: Pathe News cameras captured the inventor falling to his death when his parachute design failed

Tragedy: Pathe News cameras captured the inventor falling to his death when his parachute design failed

The iconic British firm’s archive – compiled as its cameramen toured the globe documenting world news from 1910 to 1970 – features not just extraordinary moments of triumph, but also scenes of disaster.

The dramatic footage spans the decades; from the heart-stopping moment suffragette Emily Davison flung herself in front of the king’s horse in 1913, to the horrified screams of onlookers as the Hindenberg airship burst into flames over New Jersey in 1937.The clip of Austrian-born Reichelt’s jump in the French capital, filmed more than a century ago, shows the inventor hitting the ground with immense force on an icy February day in 1912.

Members of the crowd invited to witness the inventor’s ill-fated test jump rushed to his aid, but he was pronounced dead. The newsreel also captures startling scenes as onlookers measured the hole in the ground created by the impact of Reichelt’s body.

Horror: The crowd that had gathered to witness Reichelt's test-jump are seen rushing to his aid in the footageHorror: The crowd that had gathered to witness Reichelt’s test-jump are seen rushing to his aid in the footage

Macabre: The cameras captured witnesses measuring the depth of the hole created by the impact of the inventor's bodyMacabre: The cameras captured witnesses measuring the depth of the hole created by the impact of the inventor’s body

VIDEO: Pathe cameras captured Franz Reichelt’s ill-fated test jump in 1912

Pathe cameras were also there to capture the dramatic scenes that unfolded in New Jersey, U.S., in 1937, when Nazi airship the Hindenburg went up in flames.

Witnesses’ screams can be heard on the footage as the passenger airship is engulfed by fire during its attempt to dock with its mooring mast at the Lakehurst Naval Air station.

The disaster claimed the lives of 35 passengers and one person on the ground, and shattered public confidence in airships as a means of travel.

Doom: The commentator describes the Nazi airship 'sailing serenely to her doom' in 1937Doom: The commentator describes the Nazi airship ‘sailing serenely to her doom’ in 1937

Down in flames: 35 people died when the German passenger airship caught fire at Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New JerseyDown in flames: 35 people died when the German passenger airship caught fire at Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey

VIDEO: Dramatic scenes as the Hindenburg airship goes up in flames in 1937

During WWII, a Pathe News cameraman was on board the ship adjacent to the HMS Barham when disaster befell the Naval battleship in the Mediterranean in November 1941.

He captured the horrifying scenes as the ship was hit by a salvo of torpedoes from a German submarine.

The onslaught saw the HMS Barham begin sinking rapidly before exploding.

 Dramatic: Battleship HMS Barham was hit by a salvo of torpedoes from a German submarine in the Mediterranean in November 1941Dramatic: Battleship HMS Barham was hit by a salvo of torpedoes from a German submarine in the Mediterranean in November 1941

 Blast: The subsequent explosion, which saw 863 lives lost, was captured on camera by Pathe cameraman John Turner, who was on board an adjacent shipBlast: The subsequent explosion, which saw 863 lives lost, was captured on camera by Pathe cameraman John Turner, who was on board an adjacent ship

The archive also includes footage of the 1955 Le Mans diaster, the most catastrophic accident in the history of motor sport.

Cameras documenting the famous annual race captured the chaos when a crash sent huge chunks of debris hurtling into the crowd.

The disaster claimed the lives of 83 spectators and driver Pierre Levegh.

 Carnage: 83 people were killed in the Le Mans disaster of 1955, the most catastrophic accident in motor racing historyCarnage: 83 people were killed in the Le Mans disaster of 1955, the most catastrophic accident in motor racing history

A tragic clip filmed in 1963 shows ‘Bird Man’ Gerard Masselin’s disastrous parachute jump. Mr Masselin is seen falling to certain death when his parachute fails to open.

The footage shows bystanders trying in vain to resuscitate the man as he lies on the ground.

Bird Man: Pathe cameras captured Gerard Masselin's disastrous parachute jump in 1963Bird Man: Pathe cameras captured Gerard Masselin’s disastrous parachute jump in 1963

 Certain death: The tragic footage captures Mr Masselin's rapid descent as his parachute fails to openCertain death: The tragic footage captures Mr Masselin’s rapid descent as his parachute fails to open

 

Distress: The crowd gathered below tried in vain to revive the man after he hit the groundDistress: The crowd gathered below tried in vain to revive the man after he hit the ground

The death of legendary racing driver Frank Lockhart at Daytona Beach, Florida, was also documented by Pathe News.

The newsreel shows Lockhart speeding along the sand before spinning out of control when he cut a tyre.

Lockhart was thrown from the car and killed as it tumbled violently across the sand.

 Daytona disaster: The archive contains footage of the moment legendary driver Frank Lockhart was thrown from his car at Daytona Beach, Florida, in 1928Daytona disaster: The archive contains footage of the moment legendary driver Frank Lockhart was thrown from his car at Daytona Beach, Florida, in 1928

Crash: The racing driver was killed instantly when he was thrown from his car, which had cut a tyre and spun out of control on the sandCrash: The racing driver was killed instantly when he was thrown from his car, which had cut a tyre and spun out of control on the sand

VIDEO: Legendary racing driver Frank Lockhart dies in Daytona Beach crash

Cameras documenting pleasant scenes as families enjoyed the Farnborough Air Show in 1952 were soon trained on unfolding tragedy when a plane crashed into the crowd.

The pilot and a passenger died that day along with 29 spectators on the ground at the airfield in Hampshire.

 Shocking scenes: Footage of the 1952 Farnborough Air Show reveals the moment a fault saw pilot John Derry's aircraft disintegrate before the eyes of horrified spectators in 1952Shocking scenes: Footage of the 1952 Farnborough Air Show reveals the moment a fault saw pilot John Derry’s aircraft disintegrate before the eyes of horrified spectators in 1952

Fatalities: 29 spectators were killed when debris flew into the crowd at the airfield in HampshireFatalities: 29 spectators were killed when debris flew into the crowd at the airfield in Hampshire

Other moments of tragedy unearthed from the Pathe archive include Suffragette Emily Davison dying for her cause at the Epsom Derby in 1913, the death of a pilot left trapped in the cockpit of his aircraft as it sinks off the HMS Victorious in 1958, and Donald Campbell’s fatal attempt to set a new record for speed on water in Lancashire in 1967.

Suffrage: Racegoers are seen craning to get a look after suffragette Emily Davison stepped into the path of King George V's horse at the 1913 Epsom DerbySuffrage: Racegoers are seen craning to get a look after suffragette Emily Davison stepped into the path of King George V’s horse at the 1913 Epsom Derby

'Gallant pilot': Commander JD Russell is seen landing his plane on aircraft carrier HMS Victorious in the Solent in Hampshire, 1958 ‘Gallant pilot’: Commander JD Russell is seen landing his plane on aircraft carrier HMS Victorious in the Solent in Hampshire, 1958

 Trapped: The pilot was left stuck in the cockpit of the rapidly sinking aircraft after it rolled off the edge of HMS VictoriousTrapped: The pilot was left stuck in the cockpit of the rapidly sinking aircraft after it rolled off the edge of HMS Victorious

Ill-fated: Donald Campbell's test run on the day of his water speed world record attempt in Lancashire in 1964 went smoothlyIll-fated: Donald Campbell’s test run on the day of his water speed world record attempt in Lancashire in 1967 went smoothly

 Fault: But the day ended in disaster when Campbell's modified boat the Bluebird somersaulted out of control on the lake, killing him instantlyFault: But the day ended in disaster when Campbell’s modified boat the Bluebird somersaulted out of control on the lake, killing him instantly

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