Chilling photos showing moments right before terrifying events

You can't possibly know when you're seconds away from being part of a historical catastrophe. Many of the most frightening incidents of the last century have happened without warning, seemingly spontaneously. These sorts of events — accidental explosions, climate eruptions, mass shootings, or assassinations — have wrecked property, destroyed human lives, and permanently scarred a page of the history book. Once the nightmare begins, it becomes hard to remember those precious moments of life, love, and happiness that existed right before the terrifying thing occurred. 

But these moments, and photos of them, should be remembered because they matter. By remembering the hours, minutes, or seconds before something terrible happened, it helps us to also remember the human cost of these tragedies, to recognize the real lives that were damaged. When these horrifying incidents occur, they occur to friends having a coffee, families boarding airplanes, couples attending a concert. Tragedy doesn't happen in a vacuum, and in one split second, lives can forever change.

Challenger, 72 seconds before exploding

In the aerospace world, the name "Challenger" brings back painful memories of January 28, 1986, when the legacy of one of NASA's proudest space shuttles was forever tarnished. Before that day, as Space.com explains, Challenger was known for being the second space shuttle to reach the stars, a feat it had one-upped by taking nine successful trips to space and back, making it a cosmic veteran. But on that one fateful January morning, Challenger took off on its final flight. Less than two minutes later, the shuttle exploded in midair, killing all seven crew members — including civilian schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe (pictured previously), who had planned to teach her students from space.

The photo above shows Challenger shooting up into the sky, as the world watches, a mere 72 seconds before it exploded. This unforgettable tragedy forever changed the space shuttle program in many ways, and every January, NASA now holds a special "Day of Remembrance" to look back on those lost in the Challenger explosion, as well as others who have died during space missions.

A final photograph, 30 minutes before the Las Vegas shooting

The happy selfie above was posted to Facebook on October 1, 2017, by Denise and Tony Burditus, a pair of Martinsburg, West Virginia, parents/grandparents who journeyed to Las Vegas to attend the Route 91 Harvest Festival, according to the Frederick News Post. Just half an hour later, a gunman opened fire on the audience of 22,000 bystanders, injuring 500 people and killing 59. Denise Burditus died in her husband's arms.

Denise had worked in banking, while Tony was a retiree of the U.S. Army Special Forces. In the photo above, it's clear they never could have known what was going to occur that day. It's important to look back on their names and faces, as well as those of all similar victims, and to always remember how the lives of real people are so tragically impacted by shootings like the one that occurred in Las Vegas.

Lelisa Desisa wins the Boston Marathon two hours before it gets bombed

The athlete pictured above is Ethiopian runner Lelisa Desisa, captured in history as he won the Boston Marathon, on April 15, 2013. After endless training, warm-ups, and over two hours of running in this time-honored New England event, Desisa won the medal he'd worked so hard for. But just two hours later, according to the New York Times, two bombs exploded at the same finish line Desisa had so victoriously crossed. Three people in the audience were killed, including an 8-year-old, and almost 300 more were badly injured. 

In the years afterward, Desisa reached out to the city of Boston. The New York Times says in June 2013 he returned his winning medal to the city in a public ceremony, and he also gave his racing bib to a woman who had lost her lower leg in the bombing. In 2015, Desisa ran in the marathon again, winning the medal a second time — and even beating his old time — to the cheers of a roaring, Boston-strong crowd.

A mother and son's last photograph

According to Yahoo, the smiling 15-year-old boy pictured above is Gary Slok, a Dutch student and soccer goalie who was excited to vacation in Malaysia with his mother, Petra Langeveld. On July 17, 2014, the two posted this selfie to social media just as the plane was taking off. Three hours later, Slok, Langeveld, and the other 296 passengers and crew members of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 were killed when the plane passed over eastern Ukraine and was shot down by a missile. The purpose of this violent act is still debated today. According to the Telegraph, a Dutch investigation concluded the missile had probably been fired by Russian-backed separatists, though the Kremlin offered alternative stories. No matter what the argument or explanation, nothing can bring back the lives that were lost in this pointless tragedy.

Slok and Langeveld weren't the only passengers who posted to social media before the flight took off. Another young passenger, Regis Crolla, excitedly Instagrammed a photo of his boarding passes. Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported that passenger Cor Pan actually posted a photo to Facebook of the plane itself with the eerie caption, "Should it disappear, this is what it looks like," probably a reference to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which had disappeared in March 2014.

John F. Kennedy, smiling on his final car ride

If the blurry video of John F. Kennedy's assassination wasn't already permanently embedded into U.S. culture, then there would be nothing chilling about the photo above. It shows a husband and wife, clearly of some prestige, riding in back of a limo with four others up front. All of them seem to be enjoying the sunny day, the cheering crowds, and the company of one another. Unfortunately, we all know what happened just a few moments later. 

At 12:30 p.m., according to History, bullets were fired into the limo, murdering President Kennedy and injuring Texas Governor John Connally. Not long afterward, a man named Lee Harvey Oswald was charged with the crime. Today, we all know this scene by heart — even if the identity, motives, and number of shooters is disputed — but on that sunny day in Texas, none of the people in this photograph had any idea of the tragic event that was about to occur, forever ripping a hole in the American psyche.

Jadiel's final Instagram photo

Ramon Alberto González Adams (better known as Jadiel, or El Tsunami) was a rapper and reggaeton artist originally from Puerto Rico, riding a wave of momentum into the big leagues. Known for both his musical talent and his enthusiasm for life, according to Billboard, Jadiel had been striving to put his art out there since he was a boy. On Saturday, May 27, 2014, Jadiel posted a selfie to Instagram while enjoying himself in Rochester, New York. In the photo, he was wearing his motorcycle helmet and face protector, and he wrote the caption "En la calleniiiiii. #NY" ("on the streets").

According to Latin Times, Jadiel's body was recovered only a few hours later; he died when his motorcycle collided with a car. He was only 27 years old. It's unclear exactly how many minutes might have passed between the photograph and the crash, but it couldn't have been long. After Jadiel's death became public, the reggaeton world mourned the loss of one of its most beloved stars, with fellow artists like Franco the Gorilla and Tito el Bambino expressing their sadness on social media.

A teenager with his friends, right before a car bomb went off

The picture above could have been taken by any group of teenage boys, in any location. A handful of school friends are hanging out together in Beirut, grabbing some coffees to celebrate the end of the semester. Unfortunately, this particular photo has tragic undertones. According to the Telegraph, the boy in the red hoodie was a 16-year-old Lebanese youth named Mohammad al-Chaar, and the gold car in the background had a bomb inside it. The attack was targeted at politician and economist Mohammad Chatah.

Just a few minutes after the photo was taken, the car bomb went off, killing six people — including young Mohammad, as seen in photographs posted by Japan Times. Mortally wounded, the teenager died the next day. The following week, hundreds of his fellow students marched around the building where the bombing took place, flying the Lebanese flag, dropping flowers, and holding signs proclaiming "We are all Mohammad."

The Hindenburg, right before it exploded

There was a time when zeppelins seemed like the airships of the future, but that all ended at 7:20 p.m. on May 6, 1937, when the German LZ 129 Hindenburg burst into flames, according to History. The 800-foot-long vessel was the most luxurious airship of its time, capable of carrying almost 100 passengers. The Hindenburg was powered by 7 million cubic feet of hydrogen, which would prove to be its downfall after a gas leak sent the mighty vessel burning to the ground in minutes. From the ground, about 1,000 people had gathered to watch the zeppelin land, but instead gaped at its catastrophic meltdown. When the Hindenburg went down, it took 36 lives with it.

Not everyone agrees whether the time stamp on the photo above is accurate, but what is confirmed is that the image, taken from the ground in New Jersey, was snapped anywhere from a few hours to a mere 10 minutes before the Hindenburg's downfall. Either way, it was certainly among the last photographs taken before the Hindenburg began its fateful descent.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand, a few minutes before the murder that launched World War I

On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand — in the backseat, wearing that fluffy peacock-feathered hat — was accompanied by his wife, Sophie Chotek, as they rode through the streets of Sarajevo in an open-topped car. This photograph was taken shortly before a gunshot by 19-year-old assassin Gavrilo Princip stole the Archduke's life, as described by the Telegraph.

Archduke Ferdinand, who was heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, was not the most popular leader ever. But few could have imagined the horrors that would follow his death. As History explains, the political implications of Ferdinand's assassination rapidly became the catalyst for World War I, a conflict once known as the "War to End All Wars." After June 28, unprecedented global warfare tore open a hole in the fabric of Europe, and even when the Great War was finished, its aftershocks rippled into the even more catastrophic World War II. Historians generally agree that the 20th century's most devastating bloodshed began here, on the day pictured in this photograph.

Hiroshima, right before the bomb dropped

On August 6, 1945, the United States flew the Enola Gay over the Japanese city of Hiroshima, and dropped a 5-ton nuclear bomb nicknamed "Little Boy" on a bunch of civilians. According to History, the immediate impact of the atomic bomb was 4 square miles of devastation, and the immediate deaths of 80,000 Hiroshima citizens. Thousands more deaths followed due to radiation poisoning, and CBS estimates that 90 percent of the city was wiped off the Earth. No man-made weapon had ever produced an impact that was remotely comparable to this level of destruction. The only other nuclear bomb employed in an act of war was Fat Man, which the U.S. dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, three days later. Hopefully, they'll never be used again.

What the image above displays is Hiroshima in those fleeting minutes before it was destroyed: a populated, teeming metropolis of people, schools, hospitals, and homes, just like any other big city in the world. A second picture, taken just after the bomb dropped, shows the same landscape transformed from a thriving city into a blighted desert.