Ten Travel Tragedies Of 2009 | My Family Travels
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It could happen to any traveler… Here is a roundup of 2009's travel mishaps, disasters and tragedies. And you were worried about your lost luggage.It could happen to any traveler… Here is a roundup of 2009's travel mishaps, disasters and tragedies. And you were worried about your lost luggage.

It is a fact of life: sometimes bad things happen to those who travel.  Usually these “tragic” incidents are really not that terrible: your suitcase gets lost en route, your room isn’t ready upon check-in, your ATM card won’t work abroad.  Granted these are problems, but all of these mishaps are rectifiable with some patience and time.

Bad Travel News from 2009

There's bad news and then there's tragedy. Starting with the bad news, we see that across the board, the airlines have been skimping.  Fliers no longer receive a complimentary pillow and blanket, snacks and soda stopped being plentiful (and in some cases, not free), and almost every carrier now charges for the first checked bag.  Plus, ever-changing TSA regulations can make airports a nightmare. 

Who can forget about the H1N1 Flu outbreak that began in April 2009?  Planes were grounded and quarantined, while cruise ships were blocked from ports of call in Mexico. International health and government agencies suspended non-essential travel as weary travelers donned surgical masks.  According to the World Health Organization, as of the end of November 2009, more than 207 countries worldwide have confirmed cases of the pandemic influenza and at least 8,768 people have died.  And as fear of another global epidemic grows due to winter travel, the H1N1 outbreak is still impacting how we travel.

What about those who suffer real travel tragedies?

Top 10 Travel Tragedies of 2009

Travelers, by living their daily lives outside of their usual comfort zone, are obviously more likely to attract mishaps.  According to the U.S. Department of State, car accidents are the number one cause of death for Americans abroad. Tragic.

The following stories are all misfortunes; some are scary, some are deadly, others have caused outrage, all could have happened to you or me.

Here are, in my opinion, the Top 10 Travel Tragedies of 2009, listed in as random a manner as they occurred.


Pregnant American Tourist Murdered in U.S. Caribbean Territory
On vacation with her fiancée in early February, Sara Kuszak, 35, of Savannah, Georgia, was visiting friends who had a yacht docked in Fajardo, Puerto Rico. She was five months pregnant and out for a morning run, when she was kidnapped.  In the trunk of her abductor’s car, Kuszak used a cell phone to call for help, screaming she that she knew she was about to die.  Her body was found hours later, her throat sliced.  Kuscak’s killer, Eliezer Marquez Navedo, was captured by authorities and is serving life in prison.

Seven-Year Old Girl Drowns in Rogue Wave During Hurricane Bill
As 2009’s first hurricane approached the east coast at the end of August, it was downgraded to a less intense tropical storm.  People naively thought it was safe to check out the big surf; they were wrong.  Clio Axelrod, 7, from New York City, was visiting Acadia National Park in Maine with her father. Together, they gazed at the high waves hitting the coast off Thunder Rock.  A 12-foot wave with a strong riptide sucked Axelrod and other onlookers into the stormy waters.  All were recovered with mild injuries, except the little girl; her lifeless body was found by the U.S. Coast Guard half a mile away.

Two Monorails Crash in Orlando’s Disney World, Driver Killed
Just after a 4th of July fireworks spectacular, park visitors boarded a monorail from Epcot Center.  Around 2am, their stationary train, awaiting clearance to enter the resort’s Ticket and Transport Center, was struck by another reversing monorail.  Although distressed, none of the tourists were severely injured.  However, 21-year-old Austin Wuennenberg, the conductor of the Monorail, was killed. Lauren Shoebottom of London, a passenger on the train, reportedly said, “You would think it would be so safe…You don't expect it on holiday, do you?”

Natasha Richardson Dies After Minor Ski Accident
Taking a beginner's ski lesson at Mont Tremblant in the Laurentian Hills of Quebec, Canada, Tony-Award winner Natasha Richardson took a seemingly little fall.  Though she was not wearing a helmet, resort representatives reported that Richardson showed no outward signs of injury or distress from bumping her head on the snow.  Claiming she didn’t need medical attention, The Parent Trap-actress returned to her room where she began to suffer from a headache.  She was rushed to a local hospital, then air-lifted to Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City where she was pronounced dead a day later.  Her death, ruled as an accident, was caused by head trauma, which resulted in epidural hematoma.

Two-Year-Old and Mom Kicked Off Flight for Crying
“I want Daddy!”  “Go! Plane, go!”  Those were the screams of two-year old Adam Root, who was waiting for Southwest Flight 637 to take off from Amarillo, Texas to San Jose, California in late October.  Adam and his mother, Pamela, didn’t get to see Daddy. But their plane did eventually go — without them.  In what the pilot called a “passenger issue,” the mother-son pair was kicked off the plane after the flight attendant allegedly claimed Adam’s cries would make for an uncomfortable flying experience.  As her luggage flew on to San Jose, Root, forced a buy a portable crib and diapers, was left to spend the night in Texas.  She booked another flight the following day, this time later in evening in hopes that Adam would nap. He did.  Southwest issued a formal apology after the incident.


Airbus Crashes into the Atlantic, No Survivors
A plane with 216 passengers took off from Rio de Janeiro Brazil on May 31st and was expected to land in Paris, France the next day.  However, Air France Flight 447 disappeared just north of Brazil’s Fernando de Noronha Islands more than three hours into the flight.  Forty-five minutes after the plane’s last verbal communication with air traffic control, a series of automatic messages were dispatched indicating the aircraft, for unknown reasons, suffered from an electrical-system malfunction.  Traveling more than 500 mph at heights greater than 35,000 feet, the plane reportedly lost cabin pressure and nosedived into the Atlantic.  Brazilian military did a search and rescue recovering debris of the wreckage and only 51 bodies.  International in scope, this tragedy involved 32 nationalities including 61 French citizens, 58 Brazilians, 26 Germans and two Americans.  All, including the 12 crew members, are assumed dead.

Eighteen Cruisers Robbed at Gunpoint in Nassau, Bahamas
Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas and Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Wonder docked in the Bahamas in late November and from both ships a total of 18 passengers disembarked for a shore excursion to the 200-acre Earth Village, a natural Bahamian ecosystem. In order to use Segways to explore the forest preserve, the group donned safety equipment and even spent time learning how to properly navigate their new mode of transportation.  After only a few minutes touring the property, the vacationers were stopped by a group of armed gunman.  The tour guide was tied up while everyone else was instructed to lie on the ground, face down.  While the robbers looted these cruisers, another group arrived at the site and was also threatened.  Their tour guide was not as easily restrained, and this local woman was hit over the head with a gun as a shot was fired.  Once all the valuables had been taken, the robbers ran off into the jungle.  Since then, the police have arrested two suspects and safety precautions are being put into place on the excursion.

Flight Delayed on Tarmac for 6-Hours… Mid-Route
Flying from Houston to Minneapolis is a quick two-and-a-half-hour flight, or at least it’s supposed to be.  In August, just 85 miles from its final destination, Continental Express Flight 2816 was grounded in Rochester, Minnesota because of severe thunderstorms in the Twin Cities. Passengers on the 50-seater were left stranded on the tarmac.  It was 1am, nearly four hours after take-off; yet passengers were not allowed to disembark because security had gone home for the night.  Briefly, the option of a bus transfer to Minneapolis was dangled before passengers' weary eyes, and then taken away.  Finally at dawn, after spending the night with just a small bag of pretzels and the aroma of a broken bathroom, it looked like the plane would leave.  However, the crew aboard the plane had already worked its maximum number of hours and had to be replaced. Finally permitted to exit the plane with a courtesy beverage coupon, the passengers waited another three hours in the airport to re-board the same smelly plane and made their way to Minneapolis.  Continental apologized for the incident and offered passengers a voucher for a future trip.

Terrorists Bomb Two Hotels in Jakarta
It was a typical July Friday morning in Indonesia’s capital of Jakarta as hotel guests, both tourists and business people, woke up and had breakfast.  Then at 7:48am, a bomb went off in a small private restaurant in the JW Marriott that was being rented for a meeting.  Five minutes later, another bomb went off in the main restaurant of the Ritz-Carlton.  In total, 53 people were injured and seven victims, including three Australians, two Dutch tourists, one New Zealander and a local man, a waiter at one of the restaurants, were killed.  The bombings were a suicide terrorist attack, the second on Indonesian soil since 2003.  Investigations have led to other arrests and killings of the terrorists responsible.

Young Teen Drowns in Cozumel
As of June, 2009 the United States’ neighbor, Mexico, had welcomed more than 2.6 million Americans.  Most of those travelers came home safe and sound, except for the 126 that died south of the border from non-natural cases.  Included in this number is 15-year-old Tyler Laas of Austin, Texas, who was scuba diving with his father during their August family vacation to Cozumel.  After training in the pool, they entered the ocean waters.  Within minutes, Laas motioned to the guide that he was going to surface since he was having trouble with his mask.  He never made it; Laas’ father witnessed his son’s mask floating to the ocean’s surface and the soon-to-be high school sophomore drowned.  An avid baseball player and athlete, Laas died from asphyxiation due to a constricted trachea during submersion.  He is one of the 22 American travelers who drowned in Mexico between January and June 2009.


Travel Tragedies for 2010

There were many other tragic mishaps that would have made the list, but couldn’t because they lack closure.

Take the two female tourists, one American and one Norwegian, staying in adjacent rooms at the Laleena Guest House on Phi Phi Island, off Thailand's famous Phuket beach. In early May, for reasons still unknown, they died.  Initial exams blamed food poisoning or even toxic gas emitted by the hotel's air-conditioning.  The Thai police investigation and autopsies were deemed inconclusive, however a team of Norwegian forensic scientists is still probing for the cause.

Or the British couple Paul and Rachel Chandler.  Sailing their yacht, the Lynn Rival, from the Seychelles to Tanzania, for their anniversary, they never expected to be taken hostage.  But at the end of October, their 38-foot boot was commandeered by Somalian pirates who demanded a $7 million ransom for the couple’s release.  At press time, the kidnapped couple is still alive aboard Lynn Rival as it floats in the Indian Ocean.  The British Government has refused to cooperate with the pirates and the Chandlers, who have been interviewed at gunpoint from their yacht, are certain that their lives will soon come to a tragic end.

The year hasn't even ended yet, but looking back, 2009 was not as bad as it might have been. It was the first would-have-been tragedy of 2009, but Chesley Sullenberger saved the day on January 15th when he safely landed US Airways Flight 1549 on the waters of New York's Hudson River.  Flying from LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte, North Carolina, the aircraft carrying 155 people struck a gaggle of Canadian geese only six minutes into the flight.  The engines were too damaged to continue and, with expert flying skills, “Sully” brought her down in the now infamous “Miracle on the Hudson.” All aboard were evacuated into the freezing river and were quickly rescued by boat, with only 78 minor injuries.

The only causality: the geese.

4 Replies to “Ten Travel Tragedies Of 2009”

  • Boy, and I thought traffic between San Diego and Pasadena was perilous. Thanks for putting things in perspective, and happy holidays to you and the family!

  • I guess this was premature, add AA 331 crash in Jamaica Dec. 22. Fortunately no fatalities to date. http://tiny.cc/DX2Zp

  • As much as I usually enjoy your posts, I found this one ill-timed in light of so may families traveling over the holidays. Though tne tragedies can't be ignored, the addition of stats on how many flights arrive safely every year without mishap would have far outweighed the bad news.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for your comments. Fortunately, on a statistical basis, these are some of the most unlikely accidents and events to occur to travelers. As for aviation safety, we've always said that flying is far safer than driving for families, and that's why the FAA continues to insist that airlines allow lap children to fly free domestically, so that the expense of flying with young children doesn't force more families to drive to their travel destinations.

    On April 2, 2009, the National Transportation Safety Board released their aviation safety statistics for the year 2008. On-demand flight operations, which include air medical, air taxi and air tour flights, logged over 3.6 million flight hours and had 56 accidents, killing 66 people – the highest number of fatalities since 2000; there were 43 fatalities in 2007. The accident rate per 100,000 flight hours (1.52) remained virtually unchanged from 2007 (1.54).

    The number of accidents involving large commercial carriers was 28 in both 2008 and 2007. In both scheduled and non-scheduled services, the airlines carried 753 million passengers on over 10.8 million flights without a passenger fatality.

    In 2008, commuter airlines (also operating under Part 135 in the federal code) that typically fly smaller turboprop aircraft made 581,000 flights, logging over 290,000 hours. These operators had 7 accidents, none of which resulted in fatalities. This is an increase from 3 accidents in 2007. In general aviation, there were 1,559 accidents, 275 of which involved fatalities, killing a total of 495 – one fewer than the previous year. The GA accident rate per 100,000 flight hours was 7.11, up from 6.92 in 2007. To keep this in perspective, in the last 20 years, the highest accident rate was 9.08 in 1994; the lowest rate was 6.33 in 2006.

    So, as you can see, air travel is a very safe way to go.

    FTF editors

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