Holiday travel is always a headache, and the relatively recent threat of terrorism has given fliers one more unlikely but horrifying thing to stress about. Luckily for passengers aboard a Christmas Day 2009 flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, Michigan, when these attacks do happen they aren't always successful.
The would-be attacker's name was Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian who attempted to detonate a bomb concealed in his underwear as the plane made its approach into Detroit. Passengers reported hearing a noise like a firecracker, which turned out to be the sound of the bomb as it failed to detonate. Abdulmutallab was nevertheless engulfed in a fireball and flames soon spread to the plane's carpet and walls. Fortunately, passengers were able to subdue the man and extinguish the flames, and the plane landed without further incident.
Later investigations determined that Abdulmutallab was radicalized by Yemen-based Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and sought to carry out the attack in revenge for what he felt was the killing of innocent Muslims by the United States. He remained unrepentant as he faced eight charges, including attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism. A judge ultimately sentenced him to life in prison. But best of all, the 289 passengers and crew on that harrowing flight were able to return to their families for the holidays [source: Ariosto and Feyerick].
Author's Note: 10 Worst Things Ever to Happen at Christmas
I am genuinely happy to see my family and friends when I make the 1,500-mile (2,414-kilometer) trip home for Christmas each year. I really am. But that doesn't mean I stop complaining about the early morning flights, travel delays, and relentless schedule of parties, meals and visits that have become mainstays of my holiday homecoming. When looking at my petty problems next to the horrific incidents on this list, however, there's really no comparison. It's difficult to think about what the people affected by these and so many other holiday tragedies must have gone through while the rest of us were tearing into gifts and sharing conversation by a warm fire. That doesn't mean we shouldn't enjoy Christmas. Rather, we should savor every moment thanks to our healthy new dose of perspective.
More Great Links
- Ariosto, David and Deborah Feyerick. "Christmas Day Bomber Sentenced to Life in Prison." CNN. Feb. 17, 2012. (Dec. 4, 2015) http://www.cnn.com/2012/02/16/justice/michigan-underwear-bomber-sentencing/
- Baart, F. et al. "Using 18th Century Storm-Surge Data from the Dutch Coast to Improve the Confidence in Flood-risk Estimates." Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences. Oct. 20, 2011. (Dec. 1, 2015) http://www.nat-hazards-earth-syst-sci.net/11/2791/2011/nhess-11-2791-2011.pdf
- Coates, Stephen. "Hong Kong Remembers 'Black Christmas' of 1941." Yahoo. Dec. 25, 2011. (Dec. 3, 2015) https://sg.news.yahoo.com/hong-kong-remembers-black-christmas-1941-020112231.html
- Crowther, Bosley. "Charlie Chaplin Dead at 88; Made the Film an Art Form." The New York Times. Dec. 26, 1977. (Dec. 3, 2015) https://www.nytimes.com/books/97/03/30/reviews/chaplin-obit.html
- The Economist. "The History of Hong Kong: Empire Discontinued." June 5, 2003. (Dec. 3, 2015) http://www.economist.com/node/1825845
- European Space Agency. "Mars Express Frequently Asked Questions." Feb. 18, 2009. (Dec. 4, 2015) http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Mars_Express/Frequently_asked_questions2
- History.com staff. "This Day in History: British Surrender Hong Kong." History.com. 2009. (Dec. 3, 2015) http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/british-surrender-hong-kong
- Knapton, Sarah. "Beagle 2 Found on Surface of Mars After Vanishing for 12 Years." The Telegraph. Jan. 16, 2015. (Dec. 4, 2015) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/11349163/Beagle-2-found-on-surface-of-Mars-after-vanishing-for-12-years.html
- Kuhne, Michael. "Ten Years Later: Remember the Deadliest Tsunami in Recorded History." Accuweather.com. Dec. 26, 2014. (Dec. 4, 2015) http://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/10-year-anniversary-tsunami-indian-ocean/39122355
- Library of Congress. "The Buildings." Jan. 11, 2006. (Dec. 1, 2015) https://www.loc.gov/loc/legacy/bldgs.html
- Library of Congress. "Thomas Jefferson." (Dec. 1, 2015) http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/jefferson/jefflib.html
- National Aeronautics and Space Administration. "Beagle 2." Aug. 26, 2014. (Dec. 4, 2015) http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/nmc/spacecraftDisplay.do?id=2003-022C
- National Geographic News. "The Deadliest Tsunami in History?" Jan. 7, 2005. (Dec. 4, 2015) http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/12/1227_041226_tsunami.html
- Paris, R. et al. "Coastal Sedimentation Associated With the December 26, 2004 Tsunami in Lhok Nga, West Banda Aceh (Sumatra, Indonesia)." Marine Geology. Vol. 238, Iss. 1-4. Pages 93-106. March 27, 2007. (Dec. 4, 2015) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0025322706003653
- Public Broadcasting Service. "Rise of the Ku Klux Klan." 2015. (Dec. 2, 2015) http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/general-article/grant-kkk/
- Secter, Bob. "The Iroquois Theater Fire." Chicago Tribune. 2015. (Dec. 2, 2015) http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/politics/chi-chicagodays-iroquoisfire-story-story.html
- Southern Poverty Law Center. "Ku Klux Klan." (Dec. 2, 2015) https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/ideology/ku-klux-klan
- Sundberg, Adam. "Claiming the Past: History, Memory, and Innovation Following the Christmas Flood of 1717." Environmental History. April 12, 2015. (Dec. 1, 2015) http://environmentalhistory.net/environmental-history-journal/claiming-the-past-history-memory-and-innovation-following-the-christmas-flood-of-1717/
- Warren, Robert Burke. "The 'Star Wars' Holiday Special George Lucas Wants to Smash Every Copy of With a Sledgehammer." Salon. Dec. 25, 2014. (Dec. 4, 2015) http://www.salon.com/2014/12/25/the_star_wars_holiday_special_george_lucas_wants_to_smash_every_copy_of_with_a_sledgehammer_partner/
- Wormser, Richard. "Jim Crow Stories: Reconstruction." Public Broadcasting Service. 2002. (Dec. 2, 2015) http://www.pbs.org/wnet/jimcrow/stories_events_reconstruct.html
HowStuffWorks learns about the Icelandic tradition of jólabókaflóð or the Christmas Book Flood. Iceland is the most book-loving country in the world.