Massive oil spill begins in Gulf of Mexico
On this day in 2010, an explosion and fire aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico, approximately 50 miles off the Louisiana coast, kills 11 people and triggers the largest offshore oil spill in American history. The rig had been in the final phases of drilling an exploratory well for BP, the British oil giant. By the time the well was capped three months later, an estimated 4.9 million barrels (or around 206 million gallons) of crude oil had poured into the Gulf.
The disaster began when a surge of natural gas from the well shot up a riser pipe to the rig’s platform, where it set off a series of explosions and a massive blaze. Of the 126 people on board the nearly 400-foot-long Deepwater Horizon, 11 workers perished and 17 others were seriously injured. The fire burned for more than a day before the Deepwater Horizon, constructed for $350 million in 2001, sank on April 22 in some 5,000 feet of water.
Before evacuating the Deepwater Horizon, crew members tried unsuccessfully to activate a safety device called a blowout preventer, which was designed to shut off the flow of oil from the well in an emergency. Over the next three months, a variety of techniques were tried in an effort to plug the hemorrhaging well, which was spewing thousands of barrels of oil into the Gulf each day. Finally, on July 15, BP announced the well had been temporarily capped, and on September 19, after cement was injected into the well to permanently seal it, the federal government declared the well dead. By that point, however, oil from the spill had reached coastal areas of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, where it would inflict a heavy toll on the region’s economy, particularly the fishing and tourism industries, and wildlife. Scientists say the full extent of the environmental damage could take decades to assess.
In January 2011, a national investigative commission released a report concluding the Deepwater Horizon disaster was “foreseeable and preventable” and the result of “human error, engineering mistakes and management failures,” along with ineffective government regulation. In November 2012, BP agreed to plead guilty to 14 criminal charges brought against it by the U.S. Justice Department, and pay $4.5 billion in fines. Additionally, the Justice Department charged two BP managers who supervised testing on the well with manslaughter, and another company executive with making false statements about the size of the spill. It is anticipated that BP, which has set up a $20 billion fund to compensate victims of the spill, will pay billions of dollars more in environmental penalties in the future.
Castro announces Mariel Boatlift
On April 20, 1980, the Castro regime announces that all Cubans wishing to emigrate to the U.S. are free to board boats at the port of Mariel west of Havana, launching the Mariel Boatlift. The first of 125,000 Cuban refugees from Mariel reached Florida the next day. The boatlift was precipitated...
New York adopts state constitution
The first New York state constitution is formally adopted by the Convention of Representatives of the State of New York, meeting in the upstate town of Kingston, on this day in 1777. The constitution began by declaring the possibility of reconciliation between Britain and its former American colonies as remote and...
Danica Patrick becomes first woman to win Indy race
On April 20, 2008, 26-year-old Danica Patrick wins the Indy Japan 300 at Twin Ring Montegi in Montegi, Japan, making her the first female winner in IndyCar racing history. Danica Patrick was born on March 25, 1982, in Beloit, Wisconsin. She became involved in racing as a young girl and as...
Korean Air Lines jet forced down over Soviet Union
Soviet aircraft force a Korean Air Lines passenger jet to land in the Soviet Union after the jet veers into Russian airspace. Two people were killed and several others injured when the jet made a rough landing on a frozen lake about 300 miles south of Murmansk.The jet was on...
A massacre at Columbine High School
Two teenage gunmen kill 13 people in a shooting spree at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. At about11:20 a.m., Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, dressed in long trench coats, began shooting students outside the school before moving inside to continue their rampage. By the time SWAT team officers finally...
Lee resigns from U.S. Army
Colonel Robert E. Lee resigns from the United States army two days after he was offered command of the Union army and three days after his native state, Virginia, seceded from the Union. Lee opposed secession, but he was a loyal son of Virginia. His official resignation was only one sentence,...
Siege of Londonderry begins
James II, the former British king, begins a siege of Londonderry, a Protestant stronghold in Northern Ireland.In 1688, James II, a Catholic, was deposed by his Protestant daughter, Mary, and her husband, William of Orange, in a bloodless coup known as the Glorious Revolution. James fled to France and in...
Ku Klux Act passed by Congress
With passage of the Third Force Act, popularly known as the Ku Klux Act, Congress authorizes President Ulysses S. Grant to declare martial law, impose heavy penalties against terrorist organizations, and use military force to suppress the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).Founded in 1865 by a group of Confederate veterans, the...
Curies isolate radium
On April 20, 1902, Marie and Pierre Curie successfully isolate radioactive radium salts from the mineral pitchblende in their laboratory in Paris. In 1898, the Curies discovered the existence of the elements radium and polonium in their research of pitchblende. One year after isolating radium, they would share the 1903...
New sound process for films announced
On this day in 1926, Western Electric, the manufacturing arm of the American Telephone & Telegraph Company (AT&T), and the Warner Brothers film studio officially introduce Vitaphone, a new process that will enable the addition of sound to film. By the mid-1920s, several competing systems had been developed to add sound...
First detective story is published
Edgar Allen Poe’s story, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, first appears in Graham’s Lady’s and Gentleman’s Magazine. The tale is generally considered to be the first detective story. The story describes the extraordinary “analytical power” used by Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin to solve a series of murders in Paris....
“Mambo King” Tito Puente is born
Tito Puente, the bandleader and percussionist who helped popularize Latin dance music and jazz in America, is born on this day in 1923 in New York City. During a career that spanned six decades, the dynamic showman nicknamed “El Rey” (The King), recorded over 100 albums, won five Grammy Awards...
Militia slaughters strikers at Ludlow, Colorado
Ending a bitter coal-miners’ strike, Colorado militiamen attack a tent colony of strikers, killing dozens of men, women, and children. The conflict had begun the previous September. About 11,000 miners in southern Colorado went on strike against the powerful Colorado Fuel & Iron Corporation (CF&I) to protest low pay, dangerous...
McKinley asks for declaration of war with Spain
President William McKinley asks Congress to declare war on Spain on this day in 1898. In 1895, Cuba, located less than 100 miles south of the United States, attempted to overthrow Spanish colonial rule. The rebels received financial assistance from private U.S. interests and used America as a base of...
Jordan scores 63 points in playoff game
On April 20, 1986, the Chicago Bulls’ Michael Jordan scores 63 points in an NBA playoff game against the Boston Celtics, setting a post-season scoring record. Despite Jordan’s achievement, the Bulls lost to the Celtics in double overtime, 135-131. Boston swept the three-game series and went on to win the...
Nixon announces more troop withdrawals
In a televised speech, President Nixon pledges to withdraw 150,000 more U.S. troops over the next year “based entirely on the progress” of the Vietnamization program. His program, which had first been announced in June 1969, included three parts. First, the United States would step up its effort to improve...
“Fragging” on the rise in U.S. units
The Pentagon releases figures confirming that fragging incidents are on the rise. In 1970, 209 such incidents caused the deaths of 34 men; in 1969, 96 such incidents cost 34 men their lives. Fragging was a slang term used to describe U.S. military personnel tossing of fragmentation hand grenades (hence...
World War I
Nivelle Offensive ends in failure
On this day in 1917, an ambitious Allied offensive against German troops near the Aisne River in central France, spearheaded by the French commander in chief, Robert Nivelle, ends in dismal failure. Nivelle, who had replaced Joseph Joffre in December 1915 as head of all French forces, had tenaciously argued for...
World War II
Operation Corncob is launched while Hitler celebrates his birthday
On this day in 1945, Allied bombers in Italy begin a three-day attack on the bridges over the rivers Adige and Brenta to cut off German lines of retreat on the peninsula. Meanwhile, Adolf Hitler celebrates his 56th birthday as a Gestapo reign of terror results in the hanging of...
This Day In History