1950 Australian National Airways Douglas DC-4 crash

Douglas DC-4 Amana crash

The Douglas DC-4 Amana, the aircraft destroyed in the accident.
Date26 June 1950
SummaryMultiple engine failure
Site19 km north-west of York, Western Australia
31.821°S 116.581°ECoordinates31.821°S 116.581°E
Aircraft typeDouglas DC-4
Aircraft nameAmana
OperatorAustralian National Airways
Flight originPerth Airport
DestinationAdelaide Airport

On 26 June 1950, a Douglas DC-4[GR1]  Skymaster aircraft departed from Perth, Western Australia for an eight-hour flight to Adelaide, South Australia. It crashed 22 minutes after take-off, 35 miles (56 km) East from Perth Airport. All 29 occupants were killed in the accident; one initially survived, but died six days later. It was the worst civil aviation accident in Australia.

As the aircraft flew eastwards over the outer suburbs of Perth numerous witnesses observed that it was flying at a lower altitude than usual for the daily Skymaster services, and at least one of the engines was running roughly and backfiring at regular intervals. In the minutes before it crashed, witnesses heard a number of different engine noises – sometimes operating normally, sometimes all engine noise ceased, only to be replaced by what was described as a very loud, high-pitched “scream”. When the wrecked engines were examined many weeks after the accident a significant amount of corrosion product was found in the fuel system within two of the engines. After a preliminary investigation, Investigators from the Department of Civil Aviation [GR2] believed the water responsible for the corrosion was also responsible for rough running of at least one engine, and ultimately temporary loss of power from all engines on at least one occasion. The Investigators did not find a likely source for the water.

All but one of the 29 occupants on board the aircraft died, either from multiple injuries and burns, or from incineration. One elderly male passenger survived the crash. The first rescuers at the crash site found him wandering about, dazed and distressed. He suffered serious burns and was admitted to hospital where he died six days later.

The accident became the subject of an Inquiry chaired by a Supreme Court judge. In the absence of evidence indicating the source of any water in the fuel, the Inquiry dismissed the submission that water was responsible for the accident. The Inquiry did not determine the cause of the accident but it made recommendations to enhance the safety of aircraft operations.

The flight

The aircraft was the Amana, a Douglas DC-4-1009 registered VH-ANA[GR3]  and the flagship of the Australian National Airways fleet. It flew for the first time on 28 January 1946 and was flown to Australia on 9 February 1946.

The Amana departed from Perth Airport at 9:55 pm for the 8-hour flight to Adelaide. On board were 24 passengers, 3 pilots and two air hostesses.

A radio report was received from the Amana at 10:00 pm advising it was on course and climbing to 9,000 feet. Nothing more was heard from the aircraft. As it flew east over the outer suburbs of Perth numerous people on the ground observed that it was flying unusually low, and heard at least one of its engines running roughly and backfiring repeatedly. Amana crashed at about 10:13 pm.


The debris field

A number of residents on farming properties to the west of York heard a large aircraft flying low over the area. The aircraft seemed to be in trouble because the noise from the engines was changing significantly. At times the engines seemed to be operating normally but on at least one occasion all engine noise ceased for a brief time and then returned as a very loud, high-pitched noise. One resident reported that when all engine noise ceased he could hear a rushing sound until the scream from the engines returned. Several residents reported seeing a bright flash of white light in the distance, followed by a loud crashing and scraping noise. Those closest to the crash could then see the yellow glow of a major fire.

Ten minutes after the Amana set course for Adelaide, a Douglas DC-4 operated by Trans Australia Airlines[GR4]  became airborne at Perth, also heading for Adelaide. As the TAA aircraft set course for Adelaide, the captain, Douglas MacDonald, saw a vivid white flash on the horizon in precisely the direction in which he was heading. It lasted about six seconds, long enough for him to draw it to the attention of the two other crew members. Eight minutes later, the TAA aircraft passed over a band of fire on the ground. MacDonald estimated the fire was 28 nautical miles (52 km) east of Perth Airport. As MacDonald approached Cunderdin, he was aware the Amana, flying about ten minutes ahead of him, had not yet radioed its position report at Cunderdin. He became concerned that the vivid white flash and the ground fire might indicate some tragedy had befallen the Amana so he advised Air Traffic Control about his observations. Air Traffic Control was also concerned about the Amana’s failure to report at Cunderdin so on hearing MacDonald’s observations of the vivid white flash and the ground fire they activated emergency procedures. They asked MacDonald to fly back to the fire and determine its position. MacDonald did so and advised Air Traffic Control of bearings from the fire to York and Northam, the towns nearest the crash site.

Search and rescue

Frank McNamara (62), an apiarist, and Geoff Inkpen (25), a young farmer, heard the sound of a big aircraft in serious trouble, flying low nearby. McNamara described the noise from the engines as “terrifying”. They investigated and saw the bright light of a flash fire. McNamara sent his two teenage sons in his utility truck to York to alert the police. McNamara and Inkpen then set out on foot in the direction of the fire. As there was bright moonlight, they were able to hurry through the bush. After about half an hour, they came upon a scene of devastation. They were astonished to find an elderly man in a dazed state wandering around the burning wreckage. He gave his name and explained that he had been a passenger on a large aircraft. He had survived the crash despite being badly burned. No one else was found alive.

In response to notification from Air Traffic Control, three ambulances from Perth were dispatched in the direction of the crash site, known to be somewhere between Chidlow[GR5]  and York. The crash site was several miles from the road so the ambulance crews travelled eastwards all the way to York without sighting a fire. The crews were eventually guided back along the main road and then along a dirt road that enabled them to drive to within three or four miles of the crash site. The crews then took their first-aid boxes and set out on foot.

Frank McNamara made a bed of leaves for the survivor and built a fire to help keep him as warm and comfortable as possible. McNamara stayed with the survivor while Inkpen went to summon help. After several hours, ambulance crews arrived and administered first-aid and morphia. Rescue workers constructed a stretcher using saplings, bandages and overcoats. They covered the survivor with an overcoat and carried him for two hours to cover about two miles through thickly wooded country to McNamara’s utility truck, which then carried him and his rescuers to a waiting ambulance.

Frank McNamara and Geoff Inkpen were publicly thanked by the Minister for Civil Aviation for the great assistance they rendered to the rescue effort throughout the night. In a public letter to Frank McNamara, the minister acknowledged the unrelenting effort of McNamara and his sons under extremely difficult conditions. He also acknowledged McNamara’s care of the survivor and regretted that McNamara was not rewarded by seeing the survivor recover. In a public letter to Geoff Inkpen, the Minister expressed his deep appreciation for Inkpen’s actions on the night of the crash. During World War II, Inkpen had served in the Royal Australian Air Force[GR6]  (RAAF) as a navigator and the minister acknowledged that, in peacetime, Inkpen had continued to uphold “the fine traditions” of the RAAF.

Fate of those onboard

The sole survivor was the 67-year-old Managing-Director of Forwood Down and Company Ltd., a South Australian engineering company. He was the oldest person on board the flight, and probably the most experienced air traveler. He was interviewed by police in hospital in Perth, but was not aware of much detail about the final minutes of the flight. He said there was no sign of fire prior to the crash and no announcement to passengers to fasten their seat belts. He died six days after the crash and was buried at the North Road cemetery in Adelaide, his home town.

Investigators believed the aircraft captain survived for a short time after the crash. His body was a short distance away from his seat and both were a few metres ahead of the wreckage where they had been thrown after the nose of the aircraft was split open in the impact with a large tree. The seat belt had not broken, but it had been undone. The captain’s tunic was pulled up over his head as though to protect his face from the heat of the nearby inferno. Investigators believed he survived the crash and undid his seat belt to drag himself away from the fire. His body was not burnt, but autopsy showed both his legs were broken and he died from a fractured skull.

Postmortem examinations were performed on the 28 victims of the crash. The two co-pilots died from multiple injuries. Twenty-three passengers and the two air hostesses were found to have died from multiple injuries and burns, or incineration. Only 12 of the 28 victims could be formally identified. The remaining 16 victims were either unrecognizable or unable to be identified and were buried in a mass grave at Perth’s Karrakatta cemetery.


On its fatal flight the Amana was carrying 24 passengers, including 2 infants. All but one died in the crash or the ensuing inferno.


Part of the Amana’s fuselage

One of the Amana’s engines

The wreckage burned for several hours

Western Australian police examining the still-burning wreckage

Three investigators from the Department of Civil Aviation began work at the crash scene the day after the accident. They found the Amana had crashed in a heavily timbered area on the Inkpen family property Berry Brow, on the easterly track between Perth airport and Kalgoorlie, at a point where the elevation was about 1,100 feet (340 m) above sea level. The aircraft struck the tops of tall gum trees while descending at an angle of about 15° below horizontal. Its speed at impact was estimated at 250 miles per hour (400 km/h). It crashed through large trees, breaking them off as if they were matchsticks, before impacting the ground violently and gouging a long, wide furrow. The left wing was torn away from the fuselage and then the aircraft broke up and burst into flames. Only the rear fuselage with the fin and rudder were not affected by fire. The wreckage trail was about 280 yards (260 m) long and 35 yards (32 m) wide. At the time of impact the Amana’s left wing was lower than its right, suggesting it may have been turning left. It was heading north, not east towards Cunderdin. Investigators speculated that the crew may have been turning with the intention of returning to Perth airport; or they may have been preparing for a crash-landing in a large clear area to the north of the crash site.

Possibly as a result of rough-running of one or more of its engines, the Amana was observed flying over Perth’s outer-eastern suburbs at an unusually low altitude. No witness report was received from anyone along the next 16 nautical miles (30 km) of the Amana’s track from Perth’s outer suburbs to within 5 nautical miles (9 km) of the crash site. In the minute before it crashed, eight witnesses heard a large airplane in distress and reported unusual engine noise, including engine noise ceasing on at least one occasion, followed by the sudden return of very loud engine noise. This suggested that, on at least one occasion, none of the engines were producing power, followed by a resumption of power on some of the engines. The investigation team concluded that the Amana failed to reach its assigned altitude of 9,000 feet, and that it experienced intermittent engine problems of such severity that all engine power was lost on at least one occasion. Without power and with only one of its propellers feathered[GR7] , a Douglas DC-4 loses altitude at a great rate, possibly as fast as 100 feet per second (6,000 feet per minute).

Engines and propellers numbers 1 to 3 suffered substantial damage in the crash, but engine and propeller number 4 suffered much less damage. The investigators determined that at the time of impact, propellers 1, 2 and 3 were turning normally and their engines were producing power but propeller number 4 was feathered and its engine was not operating. There was also some evidence that action was taken by the crew to unfeather propeller number 4 in the moments before impact. None of the engines contained evidence of any internal failure prior to impact. All the magnetos were tested and the results indicated normal ignition was available to all engines up to the time of impact.

Engine number 4 suffered only minor, external damage. It was dismantled by the investigation team in an attempt to determine why it might have been shut down by the crew. A substantial amount of corrosion product was found in the passages of the fuel flow meter on engine number 4. Western Australia’s Deputy Mineralogist identified the corrosion product as magnesium hydroxide[GR8] . This is a corrosion product formed by reaction of magnesium and water, suggesting the fuel passages had been filled with water in the months between the crash and the detailed examination of the engine. Charles Gibbs, an engine specialist employed by the Department of Civil Aviation, estimated at least 45 cubic centimeters of water must have been involved. Rain falling on the crash site before engine number 4 was removed could not account for this much water in the fuel passages. Gibbs first examined the fuel system of engine number 4 and discovered the corrosion about two months after the accident. He conducted a test on an identical flow meter and found that after he left water in the fuel flow passages for approximately 8 weeks a similar amount of corrosion product developed. This suggested the rough running heard by witnesses on the ground may have been caused by water in the fuel reaching engine number 4. The steel rotor in the fuel pump of engine number 1 was slightly corroded but the fuel systems of engines 2 and 3 showed no evidence of corrosion. Investigators formed the opinion that the rough running heard by witnesses on the ground, and the crew’s decision to shut down engine number 4 and feather its propeller, may have been related to water in the fuel reaching that engine. Similarly, the intermittent loss of power on all engines in the final minutes of the flight may indicate that all engines were receiving fuel contaminated with water.

The only abnormality found in all four engines was the vapor vent float in the fuel strainer chamber of the carburetors. The floats had been crushed by extreme fuel pressure. Inquiries were made to the engine manufacturer and other civil aviation authorities but none had prior experience of vapour vent floats collapsing. Tests on carburetors were also carried out in Australia by the Aeronautical Research Laboratories but without finding any suitable explanation. Whether the floats were crushed in flight or in the crash could not be determined, but even if it had occurred in flight it would not have affected operation of the engines.

The earliest reports from the crash site speculated that the Amana was already on fire when it struck the tops of trees because those trees, and pieces of the aircraft’s left wing torn off in the impact with them, showed signs of scorching. Several eyewitnesses reported seeing flames in the sky before the aircraft struck the ground. Department of Civil Aviation investigators discounted this speculation because only one of the Amana’s push-button engine fire extinguishers had activated and this had most likely occurred during the crash or the fire.

Australian National Airways (ANA) ground staff in Sydney checked the Amana’s fuel tanks for the presence of water prior to its first departure on 26 June. They found none. The Amana was subsequently re-fueled in Melbourne and Adelaide but no check of the fuel tanks was made on these occasions. After being re-fueled in Perth immediately prior to the fatal flight, the fuel filters in all 4 engines and the fuel drain serving the cross-feed pipe in the wing centre-section were all checked for the presence of water. The fuel tanks themselves were not checked, partly because, on the night of 26 June, the ground staff were “pressed for time” because one despatch engineer was absent due to illness.

ANA was of the opinion that if a small amount of water entered a fuel tank during refuelling it would only reach the drain cocks when the aircraft was in level flight so it could not be detected immediately after re-fuelling. For 15 years ANA had operated in the knowledge that the only satisfactory time to check fuel tanks for the presence of water was prior to the first flight of the day, after the aircraft had been stationary overnight. Throughout this time ANA checked fuel tanks for the presence of water prior to the first flight of the day.

Prior to its final flight, the Amana received 1,756 US gallons (6,650 L) of fuel from a tanker operated by the Vacuum Oil Company. The tanker had been checked for the presence of water in the morning and again at 6:30 pm, about 2 hours prior to re-fuelling the Amana. It had also supplied fuel to 3 de Havilland Dove aircraft, none of which suffered any engine problems or were found to have water in the fuel.

The Department of Civil Aviation performed tests on parts of the DC-4 fuel system. Tests on the engine fuel system showed that when the engine boost pump was operating, vortex[GR9]  formed in the engine fuel tank. If a small amount of water was present, this vortex held the water in suspension and prevented it from entering the engine. The tests also showed that when the boost pump was turned off, the vortex dissipated and any water would soon find its way into the engine. Investigators believed this might explain why all engines were operating normally during the takeoff but at least one engine began to run roughly around the time the engine boost pumps would be turned off.


The Minister for Civil Aviation, Thomas White, appointed Justice William Simpson of the ACT Supreme Court to conduct an Air Court of Inquiry into the crash of the Amana. The Inquiry opened in Perth on 7 February 1951. Justice Simpson was assisted by two assessors – Captain J.W. Bennett, a pilot with British Commonwealth Pacific Airlines; and Mr D.B. Hudson, an aeronautical engineer with Qantas Empire Airways. The Commonwealth Crown Solicitor was represented by L.D. Seaton and B. Simpson. Australian National Airways was represented by George Pape. The Department of Civil Aviation was represented by Henry Winneke. The Air Pilots’ Association was represented by Francis Burt. The Inquiry sat in Perth for 12 days; heard evidence from 67 witnesses and concluded on Tuesday 20 February.

Western Australia’s Deputy Mineralogist gave evidence that he had identified magnesium hydroxide, a corrosion product, in fuel passages in one of Amana’s engines. Counsel for the Department of Civil Aviation explained that evidence gathered during investigation of the crash indicated water in some of the fuel on board Amana was responsible for the corrosion products found in engines numbers 1 and 4; for the rough running of an engine heard by a number of witnesses; and for the intermittent failure of all engines, leading to the aircraft descending to ground level. The Inquiry heard evidence from the Department of Civil Aviation’s Acting Chief Inspector of Air Accidents, C.A.J. Lum, a former RAAF Douglas Dakota pilot, who described his personal experience of a flight in 1946 in which all fuel tanks were checked for the presence of water prior to take-off and the flight proceeded normally for 20 minutes until both engines began running roughly. Lum returned to the aerodrome and checked again for water in the tanks, this time finding a significant amount of water. Counsel for the Vacuum Oil Co. explained that it was almost impossible for water to be introduced to an aircraft during refuelling, and vigorously rejected the theory that water in the fuel contributed to the crash.

Counsel for the Commonwealth Crown Solicitor presented evidence that the Amana was on fire before it first struck trees. Counsel for the widow of one of the victims suggested the crash may have been caused by the elevator trim tab [GR10] jamming in the diving position.

In April 1951 Justice Simpson advised the Minister for Civil Aviation that new evidence had become available. The Minister gave permission for the Inquiry to be re-opened. The Inquiry re-opened in Melbourne on 4 June 1951. The Department of Civil Aviation had recently completed tests on the DC-4 fuel system. The tests showed that when an engine boost pump was operating, a vortex in the engine fuel tank prevented water from entering the engine. The tests also showed that when the boost pump was turned off, any water would soon find its way into the engine. The Department of Civil Aviation believed this might explain why all engines were operating normally during the takeoff but at least one engine began to run roughly around the time the engine boost pumps would be turned off. However, Justice Simpson stated that the re-opened Inquiry served only to confirm his view that the Amana’s loss of power was not due to water in the fuel.

Justice Simpson’s report was tabled in the House of Representatives on 28 June 1951 by the new Minister for Civil Aviation, Larry Anthony. The Inquiry found that the Amana suffered total loss of engine power on at least one occasion, followed by rapid loss of height until it struck the ground. However, the evidence did not allow the court to determine the cause of the total loss of engine power. Consequently, the court was unable to determine the cause of the accident. Simpson stated he was satisfied water had not been introduced into the Amana’s fuel system in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide or Perth.

The Inquiry uncovered two deviations from the Air Navigation Regulations although it did not consider these deviations contributed to the accident:

  1. ANA was not in the practice of performing a fuel-drain check immediately after each re-fuelling, as required by Air Navigation Orders.
  2. On the fatal flight, 8,545 feet of photographic film were carried as cargo. Air Navigation Orders specified that a maximum of 3,000 feet of photographic film may be carried.

The Inquiry also uncovered three irregularities in the safety regulation of civil aviation in Australia although none of these irregularities contributed to the accident. Justice Simpson’s report contained recommendations to deal with the irregularities:

  1. fuel companies that supply fuel to aircraft should be required to check every compartment in a tanker wagon for the presence of water each time fuel in the tanker wagon is replenished.
  2. when fuel was being drained from an aircraft’s tanks to check for the presence of impurities, the sample should be collected in a transparent vessel to allow more reliable identification of any water that might be present.
  3. when pilots who regularly fly four-engine aeroplanes perform 6-monthly checks for renewal of their commercial pilot licenses, the check should be carried out in a four-engine airplane rather than in a two-engine airplane as was the common practice.

During the House of Representatives debate on the report, the Minister, Larry Anthony, stated that he had already asked fuel companies to check their tanker wagons for the presence of water after each replenishment, and the relevant Air Navigation Order would be amended to require fuel to be drained into transparent containers. He stated that his Department did not intend to amend the relevant Air Navigation Order to require pilots of four-engine aeroplanes to perform the periodic checks in a four-engine airplane because it considered it was more challenging to fly with one engine inoperative in a two-engine airplane than in a four-engine airplane.

Subsequent speculation about cause of the crash

Investigators from the Department of Civil Aviation believed water in some of the fuel tanks of VH-ANA was responsible for rough running of one or more of the engines; and this ultimately led to intermittent failure of all the engines. The Inquiry led by Mr Justice Simpson found no evidence that there was significant water in the fuel tanks. No radio call was received from Amana to indicate the nature of any problem, or even that the crew was aware of a problem. The Inquiry concluded without determining the cause of the crash.

In the weeks and months after conclusion of the Inquiry one possible explanation of the crash began to circulate among employees of ANA. This possibility began with one piece of evidence uncovered by the Inquiry during cross-examination of ANA’s ground staff. It was reported that after sunrise the morning after the crash the one-gallon container used to check Amana’s fuel filters was found empty and lying on its side on the apron a short distance from where Amana had been parked. The Inquiry attached no significance to this evidence and did not explore it further.

Employees of ANA believed the container had last been used to drain fuel from the cross-feed drain cock, the fuel cock that serves the pipe in the wing centre-section for cross-feeding of fuel from tanks in one wing to engines in the other wing. Moments after this procedure commenced, the staff member was advised of a telephone call from his wife and he went to answer the telephone. With the cross-feed selector valves closed, little fuel ran out when the drain cock was opened. Some employees believed that because no fuel was running out neither the staff member nor anyone else noticed the drain cock was still open. Due either to the wind or the slipstream from Amana’s propellers as it began to taxi prior to take-off, the almost-empty container was blown over and rolled some distance along the apron where it was found the next morning.

Some employees of ANA speculated that approximately ten minutes after take-off the crew of Amana were aware of the seriousness of rough running on number 4 engine so decided to shut it down. Company procedures specified that if an operational problem occurred prior to reaching Kalgoorlie[GR11] , 290 nautical miles (540 km) east of Perth, the aircraft was to return to Perth; but if a problem occurred after reaching Kalgoorlie the flight could continue to Adelaide. The Douglas DC-4 was capable of flying from Perth to Adelaide with one engine inoperative. The crew of Amana on the fatal flight might have decided to wait until past Kalgoorlie before making a radio call to report one engine had been shut down, and then continue to Adelaide. To manage fuel usage and balance the weight of fuel across the wing, the crew might have selected some of the operating engines to draw fuel from number 4 tank. The DC-4 had a complex fuel selection system and, either deliberately or inadvertently, all operating engines might have been connected to number 4 tank. If the drain cock in the cross-feed pipe was still open to the atmosphere, air would be drawn into the pipe, causing an interruption of fuel supply to the engines, all engines to stop operating and their propellers to move to fine pitch. When the crew realized engines 1, 2 and 3 had all suddenly failed and that cross-feeding of fuel was the source of the problem they would have changed the fuel selections and restored fuel to the engines, causing the sudden screaming noise heard by witnesses as the engines burst back into life with their propellers in fine pitch. Amana had been flying at lower altitude than usual so there was inadequate height for the crew to arrest the high rate of descent before the aircraft struck high ground on the Inkpen family property. (At the Air Court of Inquiry, George Pape, representing ANA, described as “fantastic” any suggestion that the crew of the Amana would be cross-feeding fuel from one wing to the engines on the other wing at such an early stage of the flight.)

The Flight Superintendent and the Technical Superintendent of ANA simulated some of these events during a test flight in another DC-4. They were satisfied that the time intervals between events were compatible with the likely sequence of events leading to the crash of the Amana, and that it was a plausible explanation of the accident. However, on legal advice this possible explanation of the crash was not made public. Two accidents involving Douglas DC-4s, one approaching Dublin Airport, Ireland, in 1961 and another approaching Stockport Airport, Manchester, United Kingdom, in 1967 were attributed to interruption of fuel supply when engines were supplied from the cross-feed system which was open to an empty fuel tank, allowing air to be drawn into the cross-feed pipe.

Recent archaeological finds and re-evaluation of Amana’s final moments[GR12] 

Around 2002 further wreckage from Amana’s port wing outboard of the engines was investigated about 1.5 miles from the crash site. This wreckage had not been located during the 1951 investigation, although it had subsequently been located during farming operations and shifted to a barren area where it avoided significant subsequent degradation by grass fires. It suggests that having attained substantially level flight, Amana hit one or more trees several seconds before reaching its final impact site, causing sufficient damage to result in the in-flight fire observed by witnesses at the time, and a deviation from its original flight path. Part of this wreckage is now on display at The Civil Aviation Historical Society & Airways Museum at Essendon Airport.

A high-speed impact on part of the wing and fuel system might explain a surge in fuel pressure sufficient to cause the crushed vapour vent float found in the carburetor of each of Amana’s engines.


After the accident, souvenir hunters proved to be such a problem that the owners of Berry Brow kept all gates locked. Geoff Inkpen stated that after completion of an Inquiry a bulldozer would be used to dig a ditch at the crash site and what remained of the Amana would be buried.

A small memorial to the loss of the Amana, its passengers and crew, has been created in the aeronautical museum in the town of Beverley, 29 miles (47 km) south-east of the crash site. The memorial includes the nose undercarriage from the Amana. A memorial plaque was erected in the main street of Beverley on 26 June 2001, the fifty-first anniversary of the crash.


Australian National Airways (ANA) never fully recovered from the crash of the Amana. Since the beginning of 1945, 77 people had been killed in accidents in aircraft operated by ANA. In late 1948, ANA suffered 4 crashes in 4 months. The loss of ANA’s reputation as a safe airline, together with the unblemished safety record and growing commercial success of its rival Trans Australia Airlines, sent ANA into decline. In 1957 ANA was taken over by Ansett Transport Industries Limited and merged with Ansett Airways to form the domestic airline Ansett-ANA.

Amana Memorial


Photographs supplied by Father Ted Doncaster

The memorial and mass grave commemorate the victims of the Amana Plane Crash.

In June 1950 the Australian National Airways Skymaster Amana, the flagship of the company`s fleet, crashed into a wooded hillside northwest of York. Of the twenty-four passengers and five crew, only one man managed to get out alive. His name was Edgar W. Forwood, aged sixty-seven. Unfortunately, his condition steadily deteriorated and he died on Saturday of the same week. This crash is the worst aviation disaster in Western Australia’s history.

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This photo of the late forties shows the graceful ANA flagship VH-ANA Amana at Essendon Airport Melbourne. Not long after this picture was taken she would be smashed to pieces a long way from home.

On the 26 of June 1950 in Perth West Australia a typically fine and moonlit evening greeted the 24 passengers and 5 crew that boarded Amana for a scheduled flight to Adelaide and then on to Melbourne.

By 21:50 the DC 4 was taxiing for a departure off Perth Runway 29, the same strip, but opposite direction to that used by the R4D-5 Blue Goose five years earlier and unfortunately destined for a similar fate.

Looking down Guildfords (Perth) Runway 29 off which Amana departed.

Making a left turn to set heading overhead the Airport, Amana tracked due east towards her first waypoint Cunderdin. Unfortunately fate intervened less than 30 nautical miles later when the aircraft inexplicably crashed in the West Australian bush.

The port undercarriage leg from Amana, taken in 2001 lying under a tree near the crashsite

Witnesses that night from along the route taken by Amana reported rough running, backfiring and even periods of silence from the engines. The accident investigation team determined that earlier in the short flight, number four engine had been shut down by the flight crew and subsequently, the remaining three engines had all failed for indeterminate periods.
There was evidence that immediately prior to impact, number four engine had been un-feathered in an attempted restart, and that power had been restored to the other three. Additionally the aircraft had commenced a left turn apparently returning to Guildford. Unfortunately it was all too late to save VH-ANA. In the dark, in a 15 degree turn to port, the aircraft barely cleared a ridge line, struck a tree 30 feet off the ground and ploughed into a downward slope shredding itself and contents into small pieces as it went.

Notice where Amana sheared off the top of this tree immediately prior to impact with the ground.

It is difficult to imagine the magnitude of the forces that reduced this flap actuating mechanism to a single component of twisted stainless steel.

Above: Looking back in the direction of the impact tree (note the small piece of aluminium protruding from the ground). Below: Taken close to the initial impact site, looking in the direction of travel, 330 Magnetic. Despite years of cultivation you can still see small pieces of wreckage that litter the ground.

In the course of the accident something, possibly a fuel tank, has burned fiercely here; consequently nothing has grown on this spot in the ensuing years.

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 [GR1]The Douglas DC-4 is a four-engine (piston) propeller-driven airliner developed by the Douglas Aircraft Company. Military versions of the plane, the C-54 and R5D, served during World War II, in the Berlin Airlift and into the 1960s. From 1945, many civil airlines operated the DC-4 worldwide

 [GR2]Due to the inherent dangers in the use of flight vehicles, national aviation authorities typically regulate the following critical aspects of aircraft airworthiness and their operation:

  • design of aircraft, engines, airborne equipment and ground-based equipment affecting flight safety
  • conditions of manufacture and testing of aircraft and equipment
  • maintenance of aircraft and equipment
  • operation of aircraft and equipment
  • licensing of pilots, air traffic controllers, flight dispatchers and maintenance engineers
  • licensing of airports and navigational aids
  • standards for air traffic control.

Depending on the legal system of the jurisdiction, a NAA will derive its powers from an act of parliament (such as the Civil or Federal Aviation Act), and is then empowered to make regulations within the bounds of the act. This allows technical aspects of airworthiness to be dealt with by subject matter experts and not politicians.

An NAA may also be involved in the investigation of aircraft accidents, although in many cases this is left to a separate body (such as the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) in Australia or the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in the United States), to allow independent review of regulatory oversight.

An NAA will regulate the control of air traffic but a separate agency will generally carry out air traffic control functions.

In some countries an NAA may build and operate airports, including non-airside operations such as passenger terminals; the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal and the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines being among such national authorities. In other countries, private companies or local government authorities may own and operate individual airports.

 [GR3]An aircraft registration, alternatively called a tail number, is a code unique to a single aircraft, required by international convention to be marked on the exterior of every civil aircraft. The registration indicates the aircraft’s country of registration, and functions much like an automobile license plate or a ship registration. This code must also appear in its Certificate of Registration, issued by the relevant National Aviation Authority (NAA). An aircraft can only have one registration, in one jurisdiction, though it is changeable over the life of the aircraft.

 [GR4]Trans Australia Airlines (TAA), renamed Australian Airlines in 1986, was one of the two major Australian domestic airlines between its inception in 1946 and its merger with Qantas in September 1992. As a result of the “COBRA” (or Common Branding) project, the entire airline was rebranded Qantas about a year later with tickets stating in small print “Australian Airlines Limited trading as Qantas Airways Limited” until the adoption of a single Air Operator Certificate a few years later. At that point, the entire airline was officially renamed “Qantas Airways Limited” continuing the name and livery of the parent company with the only change being the change of by-line from “The Spirit of Australia” to “The Australian Airline” under the window line with the existing “Qantas” title appearing above.

 [GR5]The Chidlow townsite was originally known variously as Chidlow’s Flat, Chidlow’s Springs or Chidlow’s Well after a well and stockyard on the old Mahogany Creek to Northam road. The well was sunk by William Chidlow, a pioneer of the Northam district, who originally established the Northam road. Chidlow arrived in the Swan River Colony in 1831. Settlement began in 1883 when it became known that Chidlow’s Well was to be the terminus of the second section of the Eastern Railway, which was opened in March 1884. Chidlow’s Well railway station and townsite were renamed Chidlow in 1920.

 [GR6]The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) is the principal aerial warfare force of Australia, a part of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) along with the Royal Australian Navy and the Australian Army. The Air Force is commanded by the Chief of Air Force (CAF), who is subordinate to the Chief of the Defence Force (CDF). The CAF is also directly responsible to the Minister of Defence, with the Department of Defence administering the ADF and the Air Force.

Formed in March 1921, as the Australian Air Force, through the separation of the Australian Air Corps from the Army, which in turn amalgamated the separate aerial services of both the Army and Navy. It directly continues the traditions of the Australian Flying Corps (AFC), formed on 22 October 1912.

 [GR7]On most variable-pitch propellers, the blades can be rotated parallel to the airflow to stop rotation of the propeller and reduce drag when the engine fails or is deliberately shut down. This is called feathering, a term borrowed from rowing. On single-engined aircraft, whether a powered glider or turbine-powered aircraft, the effect is to increase the gliding distance. On a multi-engine aircraft, feathering the propeller on an inoperative engine reduces drag, and helps the aircraft maintain speed and altitude with the operative engines.

Most feathering systems for reciprocating engines sense a drop in oil pressure and move the blades toward the feather position, and require the pilot to pull the propeller control back to disengage the high-pitch stop pins before the engine reaches idle RPMTurboprop control systems usually utilize a negative torque sensor in the reduction gearbox which moves the blades toward feather when the engine is no longer providing power to the propeller. Depending on design, the pilot may have to push a button to override the high-pitch stops and complete the feathering process, or the feathering process may be totally automatic.

 [GR8]Magnesium hydroxide is the inorganic compound with the chemical formula Mg(OH)2. It occurs in nature as the mineral brucite. It is a white solid with low solubility in water (Ksp = 5.61×10−12). Magnesium hydroxide is a common component of antacids, such as milk of magnesia.

 [GR9]fluid dynamics, a vortex (plural vortices/vortexes) is a region in a fluid in which the flow revolves around an axis line, which may be straight or curved. Vortices form in stirred fluids, and may be observed in smoke ringswhirlpools in the wake of a boat, and the winds surrounding a tropical cyclonetornado or dust devil.

Vortices are a major component of turbulent flow. The distribution of velocity, vorticity (the curl of the flow velocity), as well as the concept of circulation are used to characterise vortices. In most vortices, the fluid flow velocity is greatest next to its axis and decreases in inverse proportion to the distance from the axis.

In the absence of external forces, viscous friction within the fluid tends to organise the flow into a collection of irrotational vortices, possibly superimposed to larger-scale flows, including larger-scale vortices. Once formed, vortices can move, stretch, twist, and interact in complex ways. A moving vortex carries some angular and linear momentum, energy, and mass, with it.

 [GR10]Trim tabs are small surfaces connected to the trailing edge of a larger control surface on a boat or aircraft, used to control the trim of the controls, i.e. to counteract hydro- or aerodynamic forces and stabilise the boat or aircraft in a particular desired attitude without the need for the operator to constantly apply a control force. This is done by adjusting the angle of the tab relative to the larger surface.

Changing the setting of a trim tab adjusts the neutral or resting position of a control surface (such as an elevator or rudder). As the desired position of a control surface changes (corresponding mainly to different speeds), an adjustable trim tab will allow the operator to reduce the manual force required to maintain that position—to zero, if used correctly. Thus the trim tab acts as a servo tab. Because the center of pressure of the trim tab is farther away from the axis of rotation of the control surface than the center of pressure of the control surface, the moment generated by the tab can match the moment generated by the control surface. The position of the control surface on its axis will change until the torques from the control surface and the trim surface balance each other.

 [GR11]Kalgoorlie is a city in the Goldfields–Esperance region of Western Australia, located 595 km (370 mi) east-northeast of Perth at the end of the Great Eastern Highway. It is sometimes referred to as Kalgoorlie–Boulder, as the surrounding urban area includes the historic townsite of Boulder and the local government area is the City of Kalgoorlie–Boulder.

Kalgoorlie-Boulder lies on the traditional lands of the Wangkatja group of peoples. The name “Kalgoorlie” is derived from the Wangai word Karlkurla or Kulgooluh, meaning “place of the silky pears“. The city was established in 1893 during the Western Australian gold rushes. It soon replaced Coolgardie as the largest settlement on the Eastern Goldfields. Kalgoorlie is the ultimate destination of the Goldfields Water Supply Scheme and the Golden Pipeline Heritage Trail. The nearby Super Pit gold mine was Australia’s largest open-cut gold mine for many years.

 [GR12]Essendon Fields Airport (IATAMEBICAOYMEN), colloquially known as Essendon Airport, is a 305 ha (750 acres) public airport serving scheduled commercial, corporate-jet, charter and general aviation flights. It is located next to the intersection of the Tullamarine and Calder Freeways, in the north western suburb of Essendon Fields of MelbourneVictoria, Australia. The airport is the closest to Melbourne’s City Centre, approximately a 13 km (8.1 mi) drive north-west from it and 8 km (5.0 mi) south-east from Melbourne Tullamarine Airport. In 1970, Tullamarine Airport replaced Essendon as Melbourne’s main airport.

The Story Of The Chernobyl Disaster And The Radioactive Ghost Town Of Pripyat It Left Behind

Copied, compiled & edited by George W Rehder

The Chernobyl disaster of April 26, 1986 in Pripyat, Ukraine remains the most catastrophic nuclear accident of the 20th century.

The Chernobyl disaster of April 25 and 26, 1986, was the most catastrophic nuclear accident of the 20th century. It has shaped and inspired nuclear policy, influenced environmentalist and activist groups, and left a direct, physiological impact on Pripyat, Ukraine and the Eastern European regions it contaminated.

The event happened due just as much to negligence as inevitability — with no fail-safes to prevent radiation from escaping in case of an accident, improperly trained personnel, and no enacted safety measures to ensure that those mistakes wouldn’t occur in the first place, the disaster was arguably lying in wait.

When a late-night safety test went awry and subsequent human error interfered with preventative measures, Chernobyl’s Reactor 4 became unmanageable. Water and steam merged together which lead to an explosion and a resulting open-air graphite fire. Two plant workers died that night and arguably suffered the least out of all those who eventually died from radiation or grew up with birth defects.

The Pripyat Amusement Park was set to open on May 1, 1986 — a week after the Chernobyl disaster.

Over the next few days, 134 servicemen involved with the clean-up in and around Pripyat were hospitalized, 28 died of acute radiation syndrome (ARS) in the following weeks, and 14 died of radiation-induced cancer within the next ten years. Indeed, the complete effects the disaster had on the health of the public in Pripyat and the surrounding area is still not totally known.

A simple miscalculation in safety measures during a late-night test quickly became the biggest nuclear disaster of the modern era. Brave souls on the ground sacrificed everything to stop it as the rest of the world watched in horror. 33 years later, the radioactivity of the Chernobyl disaster still lingers.

Emergency workers cleaning up radiated materials with shovels in Pripyat, 1986.

Ground Zero: A Timeline Of Events That Led To The Chernobyl Disaster

The accident occurred a full year before President Reagan famously ordered USSR General Secretary Gorbachev to “tear down that wall.” The Pripyat Amusement Park was set to open on May 1st as part of the May Day celebrations, but that opportunity never came.

It was 1:23 A.M. local time when Reactor 4 suffered a fateful power increase too high to handle. This was before nuclear reactors were encased in a now standardized, protective containment vessel.

Workers hosing the plant down with a decontaminant, 1986.

Chernobyl’s failings allowed vast amounts of radioactive isotopes to billow out into the atmosphere, covering parts of the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, and the American east coast in varying amounts of fallout.

Areas closest to the site, like Pripyat, were affected most drastically, with Ukraine’s capital Kiev receiving around 60 percent of the fallout while a significant amount of Russian territory sustained considerable contamination as well. UNICEF estimated that over 350,000 people evacuated their homes in Pripyat and far beyond between 1986 and 2000 specifically due to Chernobyl’s after effects.

The Design Flaws And Misuse Of Reactor 4

The Soviet Union’s Chernobyl nuclear plant is about 65 miles north of Kiev on the banks of the Pripyat River. The town of Pripyat or Prypyat was founded in 1970 to serve the nuclear plant specifically as a closed, nuclear city. It only became an official city nine years later.

But today, save for the startling emergence of wildlife, Pripyat remains a ghost town.

Chernobyl had four reactors and each was capable of generating 1,000 megawatts of electric power. For context, the California Independent System Operator which oversees the bulk of the state’s electric power system, says one megawatt is capable of producing enough electricity for the instantaneous demand of 1,000 homes at once.

Recording radiation levels during construction of a new sarcophagus for Reactor 4, August 1986.

Chernobyl’s four reactors were different than most others worldwide. The Soviet-designed RBMK reactor, or Reactor Bolsho-Moshchnosty Kanalny meaning “high-power channel reactor,” was water-pressurized and intended to produce both plutonium and electric power and as such, used a rare combination of water coolant and graphite moderators that made them fairly unstable at low power.

If the reactors lost cooling water, they’d dramatically decrease power output which would rapidly facilitate nuclear chain reactions. What’s more, the RBMK design didn’t have a containment structure which is exactly what it sounds like: a concrete and steel dome over the reactor itself meant to keep radiation inside the plant even if the reactor fails, leaks, or explodes.

These design flaws compounded with the staff of untrained operators made for the perfect storm of Nuclear failures.

The rather inadequately trained personnel working on the Number 4 reactor late that night on April 25 decided to complicate a routine safety test and conduct an electrical-engineering experiment of their own. Their curiosity of whether or not the reactor’s turbine could operate emergency water pumps on inertial power, unfortunately, got a hold of their judgment.

First, the team disconnected the reactor’s emergency safety systems as well as its essential power-regulating system. Things quickly worsened when they set the reactor at a power level so low that it became unstable and removed too many of its control rods in an effort to regain some control.

At this point, the reactor’s output reached over 200 megawatts. At that fateful hour of 1:23 A.M., the engineers shut the turbine engine off completely to confirm whether or not its inertial spinning would force the reactor’s water pumps to kick in. Tragically, it did not. Without the requisite water-coolant to maintain temperatures, the reactor’s power level spiked to unmanageable levels.

The Chernobyl Disaster

In an effort to prevent the situation from rapidly getting worse, the engineers reinserted all the control rods — about 200 — taken out earlier in the hopes of recalibrating the reactor and bringing it back to reasonable levels. Unfortunately, they reinserted those rods all at once, and because the rods’ tips were made of graphite, this set off a chemical reaction which resulted in an explosion that was then ignited by steam and gas.

The explosion ripped through the 1,000-metric-ton concrete and steel lid and reportedly ruptured all 1,660 pressure tubes as well — thereby causing another explosion that ultimately exposed the reactor core to the world outside.

The resultant fire allowed more than 50 tons of radioactive material to waft into the sky where it was inevitably carried away and spread across the continent by wind currents. The graphite moderator, leaking radioactive material, burned for 10 days straight.

It didn’t take long for the Soviets to order an evacuation of Pripyat’s 30,000. Authorities scrambled to problem-solve their way out of the fiasco on their hands and began with an attempted cover-up that failed a mere day later. Sweden’s radiation monitoring stations over 800 miles northwest of Chernobyl detected radiation levels 40 percent higher than standard levels just a day after the explosion. The Soviet news agencies had no choice but to admit to the world what had happened.

The amount of radiation relinquished into the skies from the Chernobyl disaster was several times that of U.S. atomic bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. With the help of global air currents, the nuclear disaster affected Eastern and Northern Europe and contaminated millions of acres of pristine farmland in the region.

A crumbling school building in Pripyat, 2018.

The “Suicide Squad” Makes A Sacrifice For The Greater Good

Unbelievably, the events of the Chernobyl disaster could have been even worse if not for real-life hero Alexander Akimov and his brave team.

Akimov was the first to declare an emergency in the plant as soon as the reactor was shut down, though by then the damage had already been done. He realized too late the extent of the damage; already the reactor had exploded and began to leak extremely high levels of radiation.

Rather than evacuate the plant as the explosion ensued, Akimov stayed behind. He and his crew of Valeri Bezpalov, Alexi Ananeko, and Boris Baranov entered the reactor’s chamber in waist-high radioactive waters beside the exploded reactor to release water. Bezpalov, Ananeko, and Baranov comprised a ‘Suicide Squad’ that descended into the water even deeper to turn on the emergency feedwater pumps to flood the reactor and stave off the release of more radioactive materials.

They manually pumped emergency feedwater into the reactor without any protective gear. The work of the engineers ended up costing them their lives from radiation poisoning, but they dramatically changed the impact of the disaster. Their sacrifice saved countless others from a resulting fallout that would have covered most of Europe.

The Toll Of Cleanup Operations In Pripyat

While the physical illnesses and disease were reportedly difficult to specifically tie to the disaster itself, the short- and long-term efforts to minimize any harrowing consequences were substantial.

The initial explosion resulted in the death of two workers and 28 firemen and emergency clean-up workers, including 19 others, died within three months of the explosion from Acute Radiation Sickness (ARS). Around 1,000 on-site reactor staff and emergency workers were heavily exposed to high-level radiation as well as more than 200,000 emergency and recovery operation workers.

Managing Reactor 4 proved more difficult and complex compared with the relatively basic task of moving people from one place to another. Soviet estimates have calculated that 211,000 workers took part in the cleanup activities during the first year with anywhere between 300,000 and 600,000 people participating within the first two.

Evacuations began 36 hours after the incident with Soviet authorities having successfully relocated everyone in the 30-kilometer exclusion zone within a month. About 116,000 people had to pick up their things and find new homes — or potentially die from radiation-induced illnesses.

But a 2005 United Nations Report maintains that “the largest public health problem created by the accident” was its effect on the mental health of the 600,000 people living in areas impacted by the event.

The Nuclear Energy Institute claimed Chernobyl’s failings resulted in about 4,000 cases of thyroid cancer, with some deaths occurring as late as 2004 — while the UN study argued that less than 50 deaths could be guaranteed to have resulted from the event’s radiation exposure.

‘Liquidators’ preparing for cleanup, 1986.

Children in contaminated areas were given high doses of thyroid medication in order to combat the increase in radioiodine — a contaminant isotope that had seeped into the regional milk. This isotope had a half-life of eight days. Meanwhile, the soil was found to be contained by cesium-137 — which has a half-life of 30 years.

The efforts appeared to be to little avail. Numerous studies found that the number of thyroid cancer in children under 15 years of age in Belarus as well as Russia and Ukraine in general, showed a steep, concerning spike. Many of these children had developed a particular form of cancer from drinking milk — as cows grazed on contaminated soil, and produced contaminated milk.

A mural in Pripyat depicting children before the meltdown, 2018.

It hadn’t yet become clear, in the frenzy of day to day cleanup operations in those first months following the Chernobyl disaster, but an entire generation of children would grow up permanently changed by the event.

Brief History of Pandemics (Pandemics Throughout History)

Copied, compiled & edited by George W Rehder

Guest Editor (s): Damir Huremović

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Intermittent outbreaks of infectious diseases have had profound and lasting effects on societies throughout history. Those events have powerfully shaped the economic, political, and social aspects of human civilization, with their effects often lasting for centuries. Epidemic outbreaks have defined some of the basic tenets of modern medicine, pushing the scientific community to develop principles of epidemiology, prevention, immunization, and antimicrobial treatments. This chapter outlines some of the most notable outbreaks that took place in human history and are relevant for a better understanding of the rest of the material. Starting with religious texts, which heavily reference plagues, this chapter establishes the fundamentals for our understanding of the scope, social, medical, and psychological impact that some pandemics effected on civilization, including the Black Death (a plague outbreak from the fourteenth century), the Spanish Flu of 1918, and the more recent outbreaks in the twenty-first century, including SARS, Ebola, and Zika.

Keywords: Pandemic outbreaks, History of pandemics, Plague, Spanish influenza, SARS, Ebola, Zika, Disease X

Very few phenomena throughout human history have shaped our societies and cultures the way outbreaks of infectious diseases have; yet, remarkably little attention has been given to these phenomena in behavioural social science and in branches of medicine that are, at least in part, founded in social studies (e.g., psychiatry).

This lack of attention is intriguing, as one of the greatest catastrophes ever, if not the greatest one in the entire history of humankind, was an outbreak of a pandemic . In a long succession throughout history, pandemic outbreaks have decimated societies, determined outcomes of wars, wiped out entire populations, but also, paradoxically, cleared the way for innovations and advances in sciences (including medicine and public health), economy, and political systems . Pandemic outbreaks, or plagues, as they are often referred to, have been closely examined through the lens of humanities in the realm of history, including the history of medicine . In the era of modern humanities, however, fairly little attention has been given to ways plagues affected the individual and group psychology of afflicted societies. This includes the unexamined ways pandemic outbreaks might have shaped the specialty of psychiatry; psychoanalysis was gaining recognition as an established treatment within medical community at the time the last great pandemic was making global rounds a century ago.

There is a single word that can serve as a fitting point of departure for our brief journey through the history of pandemics – that word is the plague. Stemming from Doric Greek word plaga (strike, blow), the word plague is a polyseme, used interchangeably to describe a particular, virulent contagious febrile disease caused by Yersinia pestis, as a general term for any epidemic disease causing a high rate of mortality, or more widely, as a metaphor for any sudden outbreak of a disastrous evil or affliction . This term in Greek can refer to any kind of sickness; in Latin, the terms are plaga and pestis (Fig. 2.1).

Figure 2.1

Plagues of Egypt depicted in Sarajevo Haggadah, Spain, cca. 1350, on display at National Museum of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Sarajevo

Perhaps the best-known examples of plagues ever recorded are those referred to in the religious scriptures that serve as foundations to Abrahamic religions, starting with the Old Testament. Book of Exodus, Chapters 7 through 11, mentions a series of ten plagues to strike the Egyptians before the Israelites, held in captivity by the Pharaoh, the ruler of Egypt, are finally released. Some of those loosely defined plagues are likely occurrences of elements, but at least a few of them are clearly of infectious nature. Lice, diseased livestock, boils, and possible deaths of firstborn likely describe a variety of infectious diseases, zoonoses, and parasitosis . Similar plagues were described and referred to in Islamic tradition in Chapter 7 of the Qur’an (Surat Al-A’raf, v. 133) .

Throughout the Biblical context, pandemic outbreaks are the bookends of human existence, considered both a part of nascent human societies, and a part of the very ending of humanity. In the Apocalypse or The Book of Revelation, Chapter 16, seven bowls of God’s wrath will be poured on the Earth by angels, again some of the bowls containing plagues likely infectious in nature: “So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth, and harmful and painful sores came upon the people who bore the mark of the beast” (Revelation 16:2).

Those events, regardless of factual evidence, deeply shaped human history, and continue to be commemorated in religious practices throughout the world. As we will see, the beliefs associated with those fundamental accounts have been rooted in societal responses to pandemics in Western societies and continue to shape public sentiment and perception of current and future outbreaks. Examined through the lens of Abrahamic spiritual context, serious infectious outbreaks can often be interpreted as a “Divine punishment for sins” (of the entire society or its outcast segments) or, in its eschatological iteration, as events heralding the “End of Days” (i.e., the end of the world).

Throughout known, predominantly Western history, there have been recorded processions of pandemics that each shaped our history and our society, inclusive of shaping the very basic principles of modern health sciences. What follows is an outline of major pandemic outbreaks throughout recorded history extending into the twenty-first century.

The Athenian Plague of 430 B.C.

The Athenian plague is a historically documented event that occurred in 430–26 B.C. during the Peloponnesian War, fought between city-states of Athens and Sparta. The historic account of the Athenian plague is provided by Thucydides, who survived the plague himself and described it in his History of the Peloponnesian War . The Athenian plague originated in Ethiopia, and from there, it spread throughout Egypt and Greece. Initial symptoms of the plague included headaches, conjunctivitis, a rash covering the body, and fever. The victims would then cough up blood, and suffer from extremely painful stomach cramping, followed by vomiting and attacks of “ineffectual retching” . Infected individuals would generally die by the seventh or eighth day. Those who survived this stage might suffer from partial paralysis, amnesia, or blindness for the rest of their lives. Doctors and other caregivers frequently caught the disease, and died with those whom they had been attempting to heal. The despair caused by the plague within the city led the people to be indifferent to the laws of men and gods, and many cast themselves into self-indulgence . Because of wartime overcrowding in the city of Athens, the plague spread quickly, killing tens of thousands, including Pericles, Athens’ beloved leader. With the fall of civic duty and religion, superstition reigned, especially in the recollection of old oracles .

The plague of Athens affected a majority of the inhabitants of the overcrowded city-state and claimed lives of more than 25% of the population [9]. The cause of the Athenian plague of 430 B.C. has not been clearly determined, but many diseases, including bubonic plague, have been ruled out as possibilities [10]. While typhoid fever figures prominently as a probable culprit, a recent theory, postulated by Olson and some other epidemiologists and classicists, considers the cause of the Athenian plague to be Ebola virus haemorrhagic fever .

The Antonine Plague

While Hippocrates is thought to have been a contemporary of the plague of Athens, even possibly treating the afflicted as a young physician, he had not left known accounts of the outbreak . It was another outbreak that occurred a couple of centuries later that was documented and recorded by contemporary physicians of the time. The outbreak was known as the Antonine Plague of 165–180 AD and the physician documenting it was Galen; this outbreak is also known as the Plague of Galen .

The Antonine plague occurred in the Roman Empire during the reign of Marcus Aurelius (161–180 A.D.) and its cause is thought to be smallpox . It was brought into the Empire by soldiers returning from Seleucia, and before it abated, it had affected Asia Minor, Egypt, Greece, and Italy. Unlike the plague of Athens, which affected a geographically limited region, the Antonine plague spread across the vast territory of the entire Roman Empire, because the Empire was an economically and politically integrated, cohesive society occupying wide swaths of the territory . The plague destroyed as much as one-third of the population in some areas, and decimated the Roman army, claiming the life of Marcus Aurelius himself .

The impact of the plague on the Roman Empire was severe, weakening its military and economic supremacy. The Antonine plague affected ancient Roman traditions, leading to a renewal of spirituality and religiousness, creating the conditions for spreading of new religions, including Christianity. The Antonine Plague may well have created the conditions for the decline of the Roman Empire and, afterwards, for its fall in the West in the fifth century AD .

The Justinian Plague

The Justinian plague was a “real plague” pandemic (i.e., caused by Yersinia Pestis) that originated in mid-sixth century AD either in Ethiopia, moving through Egypt, or in the Central Asian steppes, where it then travelled along the caravan trading routes. From one of these two locations, the pestilence quickly spread throughout the Roman world and beyond. Like most pandemics, the Justinian plague generally followed trading routes providing an “exchange of infections as well as of goods,” and therefore, was especially brutal to coastal cities. Military movement at the time also contributed to spreading the disease from Asia Minor to Africa and Italy, and further to Western Europe. Described in detail by Procopius, John of Ephesus, and Evagrius, the Justinian epidemic is the earliest clearly documented example of the actual (bubonic) plague outbreak .

During the plague, many victims experienced hallucinations prior to the outbreak of illness. The first symptoms of the plague followed closely behind; they included fever and fatigue. Soon afterwards, buboes appeared in the groin area or armpits, or occasionally beside the ears. From this point, the disease progressed rapidly; infected individuals usually died within days. Infected individuals would enter a delirious, lethargic state, and would not wish to eat or drink. Following this stage, the victims would be “seized by madness,” causing great difficulties to those who attempted to care for them . Many people died painfully when their buboes gangrened; others died vomiting blood. There were also cases, however, in which the buboes grew to great size, and then ruptured and suppurated. In such cases, the patient would usually recover, having to live with withered thighs and tongues, classic aftereffects of the plague. Doctors, noticing this trend and not knowing how else to fight the disease, sometimes lanced the buboes of those infected to discover that carbuncles had formed. Those individuals who did survive infection usually had to live with ‘‘withered thighs and tongues’’, the stigmata of survivors. Emperor Justinian contracted the plague himself, but did not succumb .

Within a short time, all gravesites were beyond capacity, and the living resorted to throwing the bodies of victims out into the streets or piling them along the seashore to rot. The empire addressed this problem by digging huge pits and collecting the corpses there. Although those pits reportedly held 70,000 corpses each, they soon overflowed . Bodies were then placed inside the towers in the walls, causing a stench pervading the entire city.

Streets were deserted, and all trade was abandoned. Staple foods became scarce and people died of starvation as well as of the disease itself . The Byzantine Empire was a sophisticated society in its time and many of the advanced public policies and institutions that existed at that time were also greatly affected. As the tax base shrank and the economic output decreased, the Empire forced the survivors to shoulder the tax burden . Byzantine army suffered in particular, being unable to fill its ranks and carry out military campaigns, and ultimately failing to retake Rome for the Empire. After the initial outbreak in 541, repetitions of the plague established permanent cycles of infection. By 600, it is possible that the population of the Empire had been reduced by 40%. In the city of Constantinople itself, it is possible that this figure exceeded 50 % .

At this point in history, Christian tradition enters the realm of interpreting and understanding the events of this nature . Drawing on the eschatological narrative of the Book of Revelations, plague and other misfortunes are seen and explained as a “punishment for sins,” or retribution for the induction of “God’s wrath” . This interpretation of the plague will reappear during the Black Death and play a much more central role throughout affected societies in Europe. Meanwhile, as the well-established Byzantine Empire experienced major challenges and weakening of its physical, economic, and cultural infrastructure during this outbreak, the nomadic Arab tribes, moving through sparsely populated areas and practicing a form of protective isolation, were setting a stage for the rapid expansion of Islam .

The Black Death

“The Plague” was a global outbreak of bubonic plague that originated in China in 1334, arrived in Europe in 1347, following the Silk Road. Within 50 years of its reign, by 1400, it reduced the global population from 450 million to below 350 million, possibly below 300 million, with the pandemic killing as many as 150 million. Some estimates claim that the Black Death claimed up to 60% of lives in Europe at that time .

Starting in China, it spread through central Asia and northern India following the established trading route known as the Silk Road. The plague reached Europe in Sicily in 1347. Within 5 years, it had spread to the virtually entire continent, moving onto Russia and the Middle East. In its first wave, it claimed 25 million lives .

The course and symptoms of the bubonic plague were dramatic and terrifying. Boccaccio, one of the many artistic contemporaries of the plague, described it as follows:

In men and women alike it first betrayed itself by the emergence of certain tumours in the groin or armpits, some of which grew as large as a common apple, others as an egg…From the two said parts of the body this deadly gavocciolo soon began to propagate and spread itself in all directions indifferently; after which the form of the malady began to change, black spots or livid making their appearance in many cases on the arm or the thigh or elsewhere, now few and large, now minute and numerous. As the gavocciolo had been and still was an infallible token of approaching death, such also were these spots on whomsoever they showed themselves .

Indeed, the mortality of untreated bubonic plague is close to 70%, usually within 8 days, while the mortality of untreated pneumonic plague approaches 95%. Treated with antibiotics, mortality drops to around 11% .

At the time, scientific authorities were at a loss regarding the cause of the affliction. The first official report blamed an alignment of three planets from 1345 for causing a “great pestilence in the air” . It was followed by a more generally accepted miasma theory, an interpretation that blamed bad air. It was not until the late XIX century that the Black Death was understood for what it was – a massive Yersinia Pestis pandemic .

This strain of Yersinia tends to infect and overflow the guts of oriental rat fleas (Xenopsylla cheopis) forcing them to regurgitate concentrated bacteria into the host while feeding. Such infected hosts then transmit the disease further and can infect humans – bubonic plague . Humans can transmit the disease by droplets, leading to pneumonic plague.

The mortality of the Black Death varied between regions, sometimes skipping sparsely populated rural areas, but then exacting its toll from the densely populated urban areas, where population perished in excess of 50, sometimes 60% .

In the vacuum of a reasonable explanation for a catastrophe of such proportions, people turned to religion, invoking patron saints, the Virgin Mary, or joining the processions of flagellants whipping themselves with nail embedded scourges and incanting hymns and prayers as they passed from town to town . The general interpretation in predominantly Catholic Europe, as in the case of Justinian plague, centered on the divine “punishment for sins.” It then sought to identify those individuals and groups who were the “gravest sinners against God,” frequently singling out minorities or women. Jews in Europe were commonly targeted, accused of “poisoning the wells” and entire communities persecuted and killed. Non-Catholic Christians (e.g., Cathars) were also blamed as “heretics” and experienced a similar fate . In other, non-Christian parts of the world affected by the plague, a similar sentiment prevailed. In Cairo, the sultan put in place a law prohibiting women from making public appearances as they may tempt men into sin .

For bewildered and terrified societies, the only remedies were inhalation of aromatic vapours from flowers or camphor. Soon, there was a shortage of doctors which led to a proliferation of quacks selling useless cures and amulets and other adornments that claimed to offer magical protection .

Entire neighbourhoods, sometimes entire towns, were wiped out or settlements abandoned. Crops could not be harvested, traveling and trade became curtailed, and food and manufactured goods became short. The plague broke down the normal divisions between the upper and lower classes and led to the emergence of a new middle class. The shortage of labour in the long run encouraged innovation of labour-saving technologies, leading to higher productivity .

The effects of such a large-scale shared experience on the population of Europe influenced all forms of art throughout the period, as evidenced by works by renowned artists, such as Chaucer, Boccaccio, or Petrarch. The deep, lingering wake of the plague is evidenced in the rise of Danse Macabre (Dance of the death) in visual arts and religious scripts , its horrors perhaps most chillingly depicted by paintings titled the Triumph of Death (Fig. 2.2) .

Figure 2.2

The Triumph of Death (Trionfo Della Morte), fresco, author unknown, cca. 1446, on display at Palazzo Abatellis, Palermo, Italy

The plague made several encore rounds through Europe in the following centuries, occasionally decimating towns and entire societies, but never with the same intensity as the Black Death .

The Plague Doctor

With the breakdown of societal structure and its infrastructures, many professions, notably that of medical doctors, were severely affected. Many towns throughout Europe lost their providers to plague or to fear thereof. In order to address this shortage in times of austere need, many municipalities contracted young doctors from whatever ranks were available to perform the duty of the plague doctor (medico della peste) . Venice was among the first city-states to establish dedicated practitioners to deal with the issue of plague in 1348. Their principal task, besides taking care of people with the plague, was to record in public records the deaths due to the plague . In certain European cities like Florence and Perugia, plague doctors were the only ones allowed to perform autopsies to help determine the cause of death and managed to learn a lot about human anatomy. Among the most notable plague doctors of their time were Nostradamus, Paracelsus, and Ambrois Pare . The character of the plague doctor was immortalized by a later invention (from the seventeenth century) of a plague doctor costume by Charles De l’Orme (Fig. 2.3) .

Figure 2.3

Doctor Beak (Doctor Schnabel), copper engraving by Paulus Fürst, cca. 1656, from Die Karikatur und Satire in der Medizin: Medico-Kunsthistorische Studie von Professor Dr. Eugen Holländer, 2nd edn (Stuttgart:Ferdinand Enke, 1921), fig. 79 (p. 171)


Drawing from experiences from ancient cultures that had dealt with contagious diseases, medieval societies observed the connection between the passage of time and the eruption of symptoms, noting that, after a period of observation, individuals who had not developed symptoms of the illness would likely not be affected and, more importantly, would not spread the disease upon entering the city. To that end, they started instituting mandatory isolation. The first known quarantine was enacted in Ragusa (City-state of Dubrovnik) in 1377, where all arrivals had to spend 30 days on a nearby island of Lokrum before entering the city. This period of 30 days (trentine) was later extended to 40 days (quarenta giorni or quarantine) . The institution of quarantine was one of the rarely effective measures that took place during the Black Death and its use quickly spread throughout Europe. Quarantine remains in effect in the present time as a highly regulated, nationally and internationally governed public health measure available to combat contagions .

“Spanish Flu” Pandemic 1918–1920

The Spanish flu pandemic in the first decades of the twentieth century was the first true global pandemic and the first one that occurred in the setting of modern medicine, with specialties such as infectious diseases and epidemiology studying the nature of the illness and the course of the pandemic as it unfolded. It is also, as of this time, the last true global pandemic with devastating consequences for societies across the globe . It was caused by the H1N1 strain of the influenza virus, a strain that had an encore outbreak in the early years of the twenty-first century.

Despite advances in epidemiology and public health, both at the time and in subsequent decades, the true origin of Spanish flu remains unknown, despite its name. As possible sources of origin, cited are the USA, China, Spain, France, or Austria. These uncertainties are perpetuated by the circumstances of the Spanish flu – it took place in the middle of World War I, with significant censorships in place, and with fairly advanced modes of transportation, including intercontinental travel .

Within months, the deadly H1N1 strain of influenza virus had spread to every corner of the world. In addition to Europe, where massive military movements and overcrowding contributed to massive spread, this virus devastated the USA, Asia, Africa, and the Pacific Islands. The mortality rate of Spanish flu ranged between 10% and 20%. With over a quarter of the global population contracting that flu at some point, the death toll was immense – well over 50 million, possibly 100 million dead. It killed more individuals in a year than the Black Death had killed in a century .

This pandemic, unusually, tended to mortally affect mostly young and previously healthy individuals. This is likely due to its triggering a cytokine storm, which overwhelms and demolishes the immune system. By August of 1918, the virus had mutated to a much more virulent and deadlier form, returning to kill many of those who avoided it during the first wave .

Spanish flu had an immense influence on our civilization. Some authors (Price) even point out that it may have tipped the outcome of World War I, as it affected armies of Germany and the Austrian–Hungarian Empire earlier and more virulently than their Allied opponents (Fig. 2.4) .

Figure 2.4

American Expeditionary Force, victims of Spanish flu in France, 1918. Uncredited U.S. Army photographer – U.S. Army Medical Corps photo via National Museum of Health & Medicine website at U.S. Army Camp Hospital No. 45, Aix-Les-Bains, France, Influenza Ward No. 1

Many notable politicians, artists, and scientists were either affected by the flu or succumbed to it. Many survived and went on to have distinguished careers in arts and politics (e.g., Walt Disney, Greta Garbo, Raymond Chandler, Franz Kafka, Edward Munch, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson). Many did not; this pandemic counted as its victims, among others, outstanding painters like Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele , and acclaimed poets like Guillaume Apollinaire. It also claimed the life of Sigmund Freud’s fifth child – Sophie Halberstadt-Freud.

This pandemic was also the first one where the long-lingering effects could be observed and quantified. A study of US census data from 1960 to 1980 found that the children born to women exposed to the pandemic had more physical ailments and a lower lifetime income than those born a few months earlier or later. A 2006 study in the Journal of Political Economy found that “cohorts in utero during the pandemic displayed reduced educational attainment, increased rates of physical disability, lower income, lower socioeconomic status, and higher transfer payments compared with other birth cohorts” .

Despite its immense effect on the global civilization, Spanish flu started to fade quickly from the public and scientific attention, establishing a precedent for the future pandemics, and leading some historians (Crosby) to call it the “forgotten pandemic” . One of the explanations for this treatment of the pandemic may lie in the fact that it peaked and waned rapidly, over a period of 9 months before it even could get adequate media coverage. Another reason may be in the fact that the pandemic was overshadowed by more significant historical events, such as the culmination and the ending of World War I. A third explanation may be that this is how societies deal with such rapidly spreading pandemics – at first with great interest, horror, and panic, and then, as soon as they start to subside, with dispassionate disinterest.

HIV Pandemic

HIV/AIDS is a slowly progressing global pandemic cascading through decades of time, different continents, and different populations, bringing new challenges with every new iteration and for every new group it affected. It started in the early 1980s in the USA, causing significant public concern as HIV at the time inevitably progressed to AIDS and ultimately, to death. The initial expansion of HIV was marked by its spread predominantly among the gay population and by high mortality, leading to marked social isolation and stigma.

HIV affects about 40 million people globally (prevalence rate: 0.79%) and has killed almost the same number of people since 1981 . It causes about one million deaths a year worldwide (down from nearly two million in 2005) . While it represents a global public health phenomenon, the HIV epidemic is particularly alarming in some Sub-Saharan African countries (Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland), where the prevalence tops 25% . In the USA, about 1.2 million people live with HIV and about 12,000 die every year (down from over 40,000 per year in the late 1990s). HIV in the USA disproportionately affects gay population, transgendered women, and African-Americans .

Being a fairly slowly spreading pandemic, HIV has received formidable public health attention, both by national and by international administrations and pharmaceuticals. Advances in treatment (protease inhibitors and anti-retrovirals) have turned HIV into a chronic condition that can be managed by medications. It is a rare infectious disease that has managed to attract the focus of mental health which, in turn, resulted in a solid volume of works on mental health and HIV . By studying the mental health of HIV, we can begin to understand some of the challenges generally associated with infectious diseases. We know, for example, that the lifetime prevalence rate for depression in HIV individuals is, at 22%, more than twice the prevalence rate in general population .

We understand how depression in HIV individuals shows association with substance abuse and that issues of stigma, guilt, and shame affect the outlook for HIV patients, including their own adherence to life-saving treatments . We know about medical treatments of depression in HIV and we have studies in psychotherapy for patients with HIV. Some of those approaches can be very useful in treating patients in the context of a pandemic. Given the contrast between the chronicity of the HIV and the acuity of a potential pandemic, most of those approaches cannot be simply translated from mental health approach to HIV and used for patients in a rapidly advancing outbreak or a pandemic.

Smallpox Outbreak in Former Yugoslavia (1972)

Smallpox was a highly contagious disease for which Edward Jenner developed the world’s first vaccine in 1798. Caused by the Variola virus, it was a highly contagious disease with prominent skin eruptions (pustules) and mortality of about 30%. It may have been responsible for hundreds of millions of fatalities in the twentieth century alone. Due to the well-coordinated global effort starting in 1967 under the leadership of Donald Henderson, smallpox was eradicated within a decade of undertaking the eradication on a global scale .

The smallpox outbreak in the former Yugoslavia in 1972 was a far cry from even an epidemic, let alone a pandemic, but it illustrated the challenges associated with a rapidly spreading, highly contagious illness in a modern world. It started with a pilgrim returning from the Middle East, who developed fever and skin eruptions. Since a case of smallpox had not been seen in the region for over 30 years, physicians failed to correctly diagnose the illness and nine healthcare providers ended among 38 cases infected by the index case and first fatality .

Socialist Yugoslavia at the time declared martial law and introduced mandatory revaccination. Entire villages and neighbourhoods were cordoned off (cordon sanitaire is a measure of putting entire geographic regions in quarantine). About 10,000 individuals who may have come into contact with the infected were placed in an actual quarantine. Borders were closed, and all non-essential travel was suspended. Within 2 weeks, the entire population of Yugoslavia was revaccinated (about 18 million people at the time). During the outbreak, 175 cases were identified, with 35 fatalities. Due to prompt and massive response, however, the disease was eradicated and the society returned to normal within 2 months . This event has proven to be a useful model for working out scenarios (“Dark Winter”) for responses to an outbreak of a highly contagious disease, both as a natural occurrence and as an act of bioterrorism .


Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) was the first outbreak in the twenty-first century that managed to get public attention. Caused by the SARS Corona virus (SARS-CoV), it started in China and affected fewer than 10,000 individuals, mainly in China and Hong Kong, but also in other countries, including 251 cases in Canada (Toronto) .

The severity of respiratory symptoms and mortality rate of about 10% caused a global public health concern. Due to the vigilance of public health systems worldwide, the outbreak was contained by mid-2003 . This outbreak was among the first acute outbreaks that had mental health aspects studied in the process and in the aftermath, in various part of the world and in different societies, yielding valuable data on effects of an acute infectious outbreak on affected individuals, families, and the entire communities, including the mental health issues facing healthcare providers . Some of the valuable insights into the mental health of patients in isolation, survivors of the severe illness, or psychological sequelae of working with such patients were researched during the SARS outbreak.

“Swine Flu” or H1N1/09 Pandemic

The 2009 H1N1 pandemic was a reprise of the “Spanish flu” pandemic from 1918, but with far less devastating consequences. Suspected as a re-assortment of bird, swine, and human flu viruses, it was colloquially known as the “swine flu” . It started in Mexico in April of 2009 and reached pandemic proportions within weeks . It began to taper off toward the end of the year and by May of 2010, it was declared over.

It infected over 10% of the global population (lower than expected), with a death toll estimated varying from 20,000 to over 500,000 . Although its death rate was ultimately lower than the regular influenza death rates, at the time it was perceived as very threatening because it disproportionately affected previously healthy young adults, often quickly leading to severe respiratory compromise. A possible explanation for this phenomenon (in addition to the “cytokine storm” applicable to the 1918 H1N1 outbreak) is attributed to older adults having immunity due to a similar H1N1 outbreak in the 1970s .

This pandemic also resulted in some valuable data studying and analysing the mental health aspects of the outbreak. It was among the first outbreaks where policy reports included mental health as an aspect of preparedness and mitigation policy efforts. This outbreak of H1N1 was notable for dissonance between the public sentiment about the outbreak and the public health steps recommended and undertaken by WHO and national health institutions. General public sentiment was that of alarm caused by WHO releases and warnings, but it quickly turned to discontent and mistrust when the initial grim outlook of the outbreak failed to materialize . Health agencies were accused of creating panic (“panicdemic”) and peddling unproven vaccines to boost the pharmaceutical companies (in 2009, some extra $1,5 billion worth of H1N1 vaccines were purchased and administered in the USA) .

This outbreak illustrated how difficult it may be to gauge and manage public expectations and public sentiments in the effort to mobilize a response. It also demonstrated how distilling descriptions of the impact of a complex public health threat like a pandemic into a single term like “mild,” “moderate,” or “severe” can potentially be misleading and, ultimately, of little use in public health approach .

Ebola Outbreak (2014–2016)

Ebola virus, endemic to Central and West Africa, with fruit bats serving as a likely reservoir, appeared in an outbreak in a remote village in Guinea in December 2013. Spreading mostly within families, it reached Sierra Leone and Liberia, where it managed to generate considerable outbreaks over the following months, with over 28,000 cases and over 11,000 fatalities. A very small number of cases were registered in Nigeria and Mali, but those outbreaks were quickly contained . Ebola outbreak, which happened to be the largest outbreak of Ebola infection to date, gained global notoriety after a passenger from Liberia fell ill and died in Texas in September of 2014, infecting two nurses caring for him, and leading to a significant public concern over a possible Ebola outbreak in the USA . This led to a significant public health and military effort to address the outbreak and help contain it on site (Operation United Assistance) .

ZIKA (2015–2016)

Zika virus was a little known, dormant virus found in rhesus monkeys in Uganda. Prior to 2014, the only known outbreak among humans was recorded in Micronesia in 2007. The virus was then identified in Brazil in 2015, after an outbreak of a mild illness causing a flat pinkish rash, bloodshot eyes, fever, joint pain and headaches, resembling dengue. It is a mosquito-borne disease (Aedes Aegypti), but it can be sexually transmitted. Despite its mild course, which initially made it unremarkable form the public health perspective, infection with Zika can cause Guillain-Barre syndrome in its wake in adults and, more tragically, cause severe microcephalia in unborn children of infected mothers (a risk of about 1%) .

In Brazil, in 2015, for example, there were 2400 birth defects and 29 infant deaths due to suspected Zika infection . Zika outbreak is an illustrative case of the context of global transmission; it was transferred from Micronesia, across the Pacific, to Brazil, whence it continued to spread . It is also a case of a modern media pandemic; it featured prominently in the social media. In early 2016, Zika was being mentioned 50 times a minute in Twitter posts. Social media were used to disseminate information, to educate, or to communicate concerns .

Its presence in social media, perhaps for the first time in history, allowed social researchers to study the public sentiment, also known as the emotional epidemiology (Ofri), in real time . While both public health institutions and the general public voiced their concern with the outbreak, scientists and officials sought to provide educational aspect, while concerned public was trying to have their emotional concerns addressed. It is indicative that 4 out of 5 posts on Zika on social media were accurate; yet, those that were “trending” and gaining popularity were posts with inaccurate content (now colloquially referred to as the “fake news”) . This is a phenomenon that requires significant attention in preparing for future outbreaks because it may hold a key not only to preparedness, but also to execution of public health plans that may involve quarantine and immunization.

Since 2016, Zika has continued to spread throughout South America, Central America, the Caribbean, and several states within the USA. It remains a significant public health concern, as there is no vaccine and the only reliable way to avoid the risk for the offspring is to avoid areas where Zika was identified or to postpone pregnancy should travel to or living in affected areas be unavoidable .

Disease X

Disease X is not, as of yet, an actual disease caused by a known agent, but a speculated source of the next pandemic that could have devastating effects on humanity. Knowing the scope of deleterious effects a pandemic outbreak can have on humankind, in the wake of the Ebola outbreak, the World Health Organization (WHO) decided to dedicate formidable resources to identifying, studying, and combating possible future outbreaks. It does so in the form of an R&D Blueprint, though devising its global strategy and preparedness plan that allows the rapid activation of R&D activities during epidemics .

R&D Blueprint maintains and updates a list of so-called identified priority diseases. This list is updated at regular intervals and, as of 2018, it includes diseases such as Ebola and Marburg virus diseases, Lassa fever, Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Nipah and henipa virus diseases, Zika, and others . For each disease identified, an R&D roadmap is created, followed by target product profiles (i.e., immunizations, treatment, and regulatory framework). Those efforts are important to help us combat a dangerous outbreak of any of the abovementioned diseases, but also to fend off Disease X. Since Disease X is a hypothetical entity, brought by a yet unknown pathogen that could cause a serious international pandemic, the R&D Blueprint explicitly seeks to enable cross-cutting R&D preparedness that is also relevant for both existing culprits and the unknown future “Disease X” as much as possible.

WHO utilizes this R&D Blueprint vehicle to assemble and deploy a broad global coalition of experts who regularly contribute to the Blueprint and who come from several medical, scientific, and regulatory backgrounds. Its advisory group, at the time, does not include mental health specialists .


Timeline of the pandemics described in this paper.

541–543Plague of JustinianYersinia pestisFleas associated to wild rodents
1347–1351Black DeathYersinia pestisFleas associated to wild rodents
1817–1824First cholera pandemicVibrio choleraeContaminated water
1827–1835Second cholera pandemicVibrio choleraeContaminated water
1839–1856Third cholera pandemicVibrio choleraeContaminated water
1863–1875Fourth cholera pandemicVibrio choleraeContaminated water
1881–1886Fifth cholera pandemicVibrio choleraeContaminated water
1885–ongoingThird plagueYersinia pestisFleas associated to wild rodents
1889–1893Russian fluInfluenza A/H3N8?Avian?
1899–1923Sixth cholera pandemicVibrio choleraeContaminated water
1918–1919Spanish fluInfluenza A/H1N1Avian
1957–1959Asian fluInfluenza A/H2N2Avian
1961-ongoingSeventh cholera pandemicVibrio choleraeContaminated water
1968–1970Hong Kong fluInfluenza A/H3N2Avian
2002–2003Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)SARS-CoVBats, palm civets
2009–2010Swine fluInfluenza A/H1N1Pigs
2015-ongoingMiddle East respiratory syndrome (MERS)MERS-CoVBats, dromedary camels
2019-ongoingCOVID-19SARS-CoV-2Bats, pangolins?

Australia’s coastal living is at risk from sea level rise, but it’s happened before


  1. Sean Ulm 

Sean Ulm is a Friend of The Conversation.

Deputy Director, ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, James Cook University

Associate Investigator, ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, UNSW

ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, University of New South Wales, UNSW

Principal Research Officer, James Cook University

Disclosure statement

Sean Ulm receives funding from the Australian Research Council.

Alan Williams works for Extent Heritage Pty Ltd.

Chris Turney receives funding from the Australian Research Council.

Stephen Lewis receives funding from the National Environmental Science Program.


James Cook University and UNSW provide funding as members of The Conversation AU.

View current jobs from James Cook University

With global sea levels expected to rise by up to a metre by 2100 we can learn much from archaeology about how people coped in the past with changes in sea level.

In a study published this week in Quaternary Science Reviews, we looked at how changes in sea level affected different parts of Australia and the impact on people living around the coast.

The study casts new light on how people adapt to rising sea levels of the scale projected to happen in our near future.

Coastal living

More than eight out of every ten Australians live within 50km of the coast.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says global sea levels may increase by more than 8mm/year, four times the average of the last century.

A major challenge for managing such a large increase in sea level is our limited understanding of what impact this scale of change might have on humanity.

While there are excellent online resources to model the local physical impacts of sea level rise, the recent geological past can provide important insights into how humans responded to dramatic increases in sea level.

The last ice age

At the height of the last ice age some 21,000 years ago, not only were the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets larger than they are today, but 3km-high ice sheets covered large parts of North America and northern Europe.

This sucked vast amounts of water out of our planet’s oceans. The practical upshot was sea level was around 125m lower, making the shape of the world’s coastlines distinctly different to today.

As the world lurched out of the last ice age with increasing temperatures, the melting ice returned to the ocean as freshwater, dramatically increasing sea levels and altering the surface of our planet.

Arguably nowhere experienced greater changes than Australia, a continent with a broad continental shelf and a rich archaeological record spanning tens of millennia.

A bigger landmass

For most of human history in Australia, lower sea levels joined mainland Australia to both Tasmania and New Guinea, forming a supercontinent called Sahul. The Gulf of Carpentaria hosted a freshwater lake more than twice the size of Tasmania (about 190,000km2).

Our study shows that lower sea levels resulted in Australia growing by almost 40% during this time – from the current landmass of 7.2 million km2 to 9.8 million km2.

The coastlines also looked very different, with steep profiles off the edge of the exposed continental shelf in many areas forming precipitous slopes and cliffs.

Imagine the current coastline where the Twelve Apostles are on Victoria’s Great Ocean Road and then extend them around much of the continent. Many rivers flowed across the exposed shelf to the then distant coast.

The steep cliffs at the Apostles, off Victoria’s Great Ocean Road, look like parts of the ancient coastline of Australia, CC BY-SA

When things warmed up

Then between 18,000 and 8,000 years ago, global climate warmed, leading to rapid melting of the ice sheets, and seeing sea levels in the Australian region rising from 125m below to 2m above modern sea levels.

Tasmania was cut off with the flooding of Bass Strait around 11,000 years ago. New Guinea was separated from Australia with the flooding of Torres Strait and creation of the Gulf of Carpentaria around 8,000 years ago.

We found that 2.12 million square km, or 20-29% of the landmass – a size comparable to the state of Queensland – was lost during this inundation. The location of coastlines changed on average by 139km inland. In some areas the change was more than 300km.

Much of this inundation occurred over a 4,000-year period (between 14,600 and 10,600 years ago) initiated by what is called Meltwater Pulse 1A, a period of substantial ice sheet collapse releasing millions of cubic litres of water back into the oceans.

During this period, sea levels rose by 58m, equivalent to 14.5mm per year. On the ground, this would have seen movement of the sea’s edge at a pace of about 20-24m per year.

Impacts of past sea level rise

The potential impacts of these past sea-level changes on Aboriginal populations and societies have long been a subject of speculation by archaeologists and historians.

Map of Australia showing sea-level change and archaeological sites for selected periods between 35,000 and 8,000 years ago. PMSL=Present Mean Sea Level. Sean Ulm, Author provided

In his 1970s book Triumph of the Nomads: A History of Aboriginal Australia, the Australian historian Geoffrey Blainey hypothesised that:

Most tribal groups on the coast 18,000 years ago must have slowly lost their entire territory […] a succession of retreats must have occurred. The slow exodus of refugees, the sorting out of peoples and the struggle for territories probably led to many deaths as well as new alliances.

Archaeologists have long recognised that Aboriginal people would have occupied the now-drowned continental shelves surrounding Australia, but opinions have been divided about the nature of occupation and the significance of sea-level rise. Most have suggested that the ancient coasts were little-used or underpopulated in the past.

Our data show that Aboriginal populations were severely disrupted by sea-level change in many areas. Perhaps surprisingly the initial decrease in sea level prior to the peak of the last ice age resulted in people largely abandoning the coastline, and heading inland, with a number of archaeological sites within the interior becoming established at this time.

Cross-section profiles of the continental shelf at Port Stephens, NSW (top) and Cape Otway, Vic (bottom). PMSL=Present Mean Sea Level. Sean Ulm, Author provided

During the peak of the last ice age, there is evidence on the west coast that shows people continued to use marine resources (shellfish, fish etc) during this time, albeit at low levels.

A shrinking landmass

With the onset of the massive inundation after the end of the last ice age people evacuated the coasts causing markedly increased population densities across Australia (from around 1 person for every 355 square km 20,000 years ago, to 1 person every 147 square km 10,000 years ago).

Rising sea levels had such a profound impact on societies that Aboriginal oral histories from around the length of the Australian coastline preserve details of coastal flooding and the migration of populations.

We argue that this squeezing of people into a landmass 22% smaller – into inland areas that were already occupied – required people to adopt new social, settlement and subsistence strategies. This may have been an important element in the development of the complex geographical and religious landscape that European explorers observed in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Following the stabilisation of the sea level after 8,000 years ago, we start to see the onset of intensive technological investment and manipulation of the landscape (such as fish traps and landscape burning).

We also see the formation of territories (evident by marking of place through rock art) that continues to propagate up until the present time. All signs of more people trying to survive in less space.

So what are the lessons of the past for today? Thankfully, we can show that past societies survived rapid sea level change at rates slightly greater than those projected in our near future, albeit with population densities far lower than today.

But we can also see that sea level rise resulted in drastic changes to where people lived, how they survived, what technology they used, and probable modifications to their social, religious and political ways of life.

In today’s world with substantially higher population densities, managing the relocation of people inland and outside Australia, potentially across national boundaries, may provide to be one of the great social challenges of the 21st century.

Note, this article was amended on Friday 19 January 2018 at the request of the authors to correct the IPCC’s projected rise in global sea levels.