No matter how much companies invest in unbelievable engineering projects, no matter how many brilliant brains you have working on a project for corporations supported by the likes of United Airlines, there’s always a probability that something could malfunction.
From expensive submarines that cannot float to one-of-a-kind rare guitars accidentally destroyed by Hollywood actors, expensive mistakes can (and do) happen, losing companies thousands, even billions of dollars. Several of these projects would have easily been saved by a simple text, while others were disasters from the beginning.
Losses: $2.2 billion
Even airheads know that a submarine has one main job: floating. Despite paying about $2.2 billion to develop a new, cutting-edge Isaac Peral Submarine in 2013, the Spanish government didn’t even use it because of this immensely expensive error.
The submarine was so incredibly massive that it couldn’t float correctly. Engineers investigated the issue and concluded that there had been a miscalculation. Luckily, the design didn’t make it to the production stage, but it still lost the government a ridiculous sum of money.
Who: RFF provided incorrect dimensions to SNCF
Losses: $68 million
Railroads and the Metro are heavily utilized in France, so when the train company SNCF invested in a new transportation plan, it made perfect sense. But even plans with the best intentions can be poorly executed.
2,000 new trains worth more than $20.5 billion hit railways in 2014, but with a sizable issue. They were way too wide, or as BBC called them, too “fat,” to safely slip by each other on the tracks. The error cost SNCF nearly $70 million.
Where: South Dakota, USA
Who: Dakota Plaster Company
Losses: $10-15 million
When buying a house, make sure to double-check with the realtor that it’s not sitting on a huge, colossal, abandoned mine. A bunch of South Dakota residents didn’t check when they paid a fortune for their beautiful, newly-built houses in 2014.
One resident was tending to his lawn when he suddenly saw the sinkhole. Twelve families were eventually evacuated. Investigators found that a giant 600 feet long gypsum mine was located directly underneath the properties, rendering them unsafe – and completely worthless.
Where: North Atlantic Ocean
Who: White Star Line
Losses: $7.5 million ($400 million with inflation)
In 1912, the Titanic was a true example of engineering genius. Indeed, at such a high cost, it was a passenger ship unlike anything before. With stunning staterooms and a sweeping staircase, it was more like a 5-star hotel that could float.
Tragically, we know the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank in the North Atlantic Ocean. Despite being ridiculously expensive, the Titanic had many issues, including poorly made rivets and only 16 lifeboats to hold over 3,300 passengers.
Where: Auckland Beach, New Zealand
Who: Little Shoal Bay Boating Club
Parking your vehicle in a safe spot is an absolute necessity. You wouldn’t put a brand-new Tesla on a beach, but someone thought it was a smart idea to test their luck with a 4×4 Land Rover.
It’s unclear why this happened or why the owner thought it was a place for an expensive car. However, the digger sent to rescue the 4×4 also got stuck and sat fully submerged in the sand and mud for over three days.
Where: Airspace over Didcot, Oxfordshire
Who: British Airways
Losses: $2.8 million
In 1990, one of the most dreadful airplane incidents was captured on video in real-time. A flight was soaring over Oxfordshire when suddenly the pressure inside the cockpit caused the front window to fly off – sucking pilot Tim Lancaster out of the plane.
Luckily, Lancaster’s legs caught on the controls – and a staff held onto his body (half inside the plane, half outside in the freezing winds) until they made an emergency landing. Lancaster suffered broken bones and frostbite but was fortunate to survive.
Where: Sunnyvale, California
Who: Lockheed Martin Space Systems
Losses: $135 million
Satellites may look like big hunks of metal, but they’re complex machines that take a lot to make. So, when one gets damaged, it’s not a solution of just sticking it back together with Newell’s Krazy Glue.
In 2003, employees at Lockheed Martin Space Systems moved the Noaa-N Prime Satellite to a different position when it fell onto the floor, causing $135 million in damages. All because someone forgot to secure it with the required 24 bolts before lifting it.
Who: Belgian Air Force
Losses: $15-$18 million
We’ve all made mistakes at work, but have you ever accidentally fired a cannon and destroyed a $15 million dollar fighter jet? If not, one Belgian maintenance worker might just have you beat. The incident happened in 2018 at the Florennes Air Force Base.
The employee somehow accidentally shot a Vulcan cannon at a fully-fueled General Dynamics’ F-16, causing it to explode. Fortunately, there were no casualties, but two technicians suffered head injuries due to this careless and costly slip-up.
Who: Land Securities and Canary Wharf Group
Losses: $1,000 per car/Undetermined for the building
Skyscrapers are normal for big cities across the world, but how many of them have been known to melt cars and other businesses? In 2014, the “Walkie Talkie” in London melted a Jaguar parked across the street from the sun’s reflection.
The Jaguar cost over $1,000 to repair, but the destruction from the building’s glare didn’t stop there. Neighboring businesses said windows cracked from the heat, making the $250-million-dollar building spend an undisclosed amount on fitting a giant sunshade.
Where: On-set of “The Hateful Eight”
Who: Shiny Penny, FilmColony
Back in 2015, director Quentin Tarantino hired Kurt Russell and Jennifer Jason Leigh to star in “The Hateful Eight.” Leigh plays a vintage guitar in one specific scene when Russell’s character takes it from her and smashes it to pieces.
Russell didn’t know that the guitar was a valuable museum piece. Production was supposed to swap it for an inexpensive dummy halfway through the scene, but they forgot. The museum was so upset they refuse to lend out any items.
Where: Inside a plane
Who: United Airlines
The passengers on a flight from Chicago to Orange County in 2014 had the emergency slide inflate inside the cabin. The United Airlines plane was going along as usual when passengers heard a hissing sound, only to see that the inflatable was starting to grow.
The pilot performed an emergency landing in Kansas. The plane itself had to be taken out of service while they replaced the slide, costing the airline something in the region of $20,000. Thankfully, no one was hurt.
Where: Eastern Spain
Who: Cecilia Gimenez (restorer)
Artwork is sometimes so rare that it’s hard to put a price on it. Back in 2012, the world was flabbergasted when an elderly Spanish woman took it upon herself to restore “Ecce Homo” by Elias Garcia Martinez. When staff checked on the painting, they were horrified to discover what had happened.
Although the “restoration” was an attempted act of service, the result is entirely bad. Martinez’s work was altered beyond all recognition, transforming Jesus from a religious figure into something resembling a monkey.
Where: Aberdeen, Scotland
Who: Occidental Petroleum (Caledonia) Ltd.
Losses: $1.7 billion
Working on an oil platform can be a delicate (and expensive) business. When things go wrong, there’s a margin between a near miss and a fatal disaster. In 1988, a platform operated by Occidental Petroleum (Caledonia) Limited exploded when a PSV flange leaked.
Several explosions occurred within two hours, resulting in the entire collapse of the platform. The result was $1.7 billion worth of damage. Presently, the Piper Alpha remains one of the largest oil rig disasters in oil business history.
Who: Delta Air Lines
Storing airplanes takes thought and resources, so naturally, companies want to protect their planes with a fire foam system. If there is a fire, it’s taken care of relatively quickly. If it accidentally releases when there’s no fire, it’s a costly disaster.
Delta Air Lines found that out the hard way in 2013 when their new hangar and aircrafts got foamed for no reason. Several military bases have also faced the same issue, racking up big bucks in unnecessary repair costs.
Where: Outer Space
Losses: $125 million
NASA was crushed when they invested $125 million on the Mars Climate Orbiter in the 1990s, only to watch it burn up. The worst part? It was because one team was using the Metric System, while the other was using the Imperial System.
The team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory used one measurement system while Lockheed Martin’s division used another. Neither team realized until it was too late, spelling disaster for the project when it could have easily been avoided.
Who: Shanghai Meidu Real Estate Development
Losses: $2,000 per square meter
In 2009, the Lotus Riverside Apartment Complex in China was being built when an entire block fell over on its side. It was eventually blamed on the parking garage underneath the building and nearby riverbank collapse.
As water leaked in, the foundations of the building became unstable, leading it to crumble. At the time, space in the structure was being sold for $2,000 per square meter. Not only did developers have to start over, but they also had to clean the damage.
Losses: $30 million
Owning a luxury 70-meter yacht is a dream for most of us, while it’s more realistic for a Saudi prince. Earlier this year, the $65 million yacht was being taken out for maintenance in a Greek yard when the entire thing capsized in the ocean.
Workers were able to retrieve the luxury ship and began repairing it in March 2020. While it’s unclear just how much it will cost to bring the boat back up to standard, it’s likely to be somewhere around the $30 million mark.
Who: Maintained by Taiwan Area National Freeway Bureau
Losses: $20 million
Slope management in Taiwan has been a hot topic for quite some time, as landslides often happen and cause all kinds of disasters. In 2010, disaster struck again when Highway 3 was covered by a monumental landslide that completely demolished the highway.
With 50 excavators and 100 trucks working on the mess, it took over a month to get the highway clear. The disaster ultimately cost the government more than $20 million when all was said and done.
Where: Astrolabe Reef, New Zealand
Who: Daina Shipping (Costamare)
Losses: $108 million
While some mistakes are because of actual issues, often, disasters can be avoided. Consider the case of The Rena Monrovia container ship. The vessel was on a voyage when it struck New Zealand’s Astrolabe Reef and beached in 2011.
The cargo spilled into the ocean, while the ship basically totaled since it had traveled at full speed. It cost the company $240 million to clean up the mess – and it was all because nobody was looking where they were going.
Where: Gulf of Mexico
Losses: $65 billion
There are fewer disasters more profuse than Deepwater Horizon. On April 20, 2010, the drilling rig exploded, resulting in the largest recorded oil spill. 94 workers were rescued from the rig – but the fire continued for days.
The tanker itself sank two days later, but that wasn’t it. The oil spill had a huge impact on the environment around the Gulf of Mexico. BP had to pay big money to try and amend the situation, bringing the total bill to upward of $65 billion.
Who: James Howells
Losses: $85 million
The world of Bitcoin can be confusing to the untrained eye, but it ended up paying big for early investors. Welsh computer whizz James Howells collected 7,500 bitcoins, which would go on to be worth more than $85 million, but there was just one problem.
James threw away the hard drive. He had broken his laptop into parts, which he sold on eBay. He thought that he had kept the hard drive in case it became more valuable. However, when he checked, he realized he accidentally threw it away.
Where: Genoa, Italy
Who: Ing. Nino Ferrari Impresa Costruzioni Generali Srl, ANAS
Italy has long had an infrastructural problem. The Caprigliola Bridge was built 111 years ago in Tuscany, Italy. The bridge collapsed on April 8, 2020. Thankfully, there were no deaths, but 17 people are being investigated.
Built by Attilio Muggia, the bridge was badly damaged near the end of World War II. Retreating German Wehrmacht troops set mines as they left, which took four years to repair. The causes of the 2020 collapse haven’t been identified.
Where: Bay Area, San Francisco, California
Losses: $5.2 million
A tanker truck, traveling early morning, was in an accident that caused the collapse of a freeway overpass. The tanker truck was carrying 8,600 gallons of gas and spilled hundreds of cubic feet of concrete onto the highway below as the overpass collapsed.
The driver lost control during a curve, hit a guardrail, the tanker flipped on its side, and caught on fire. The intense heat from the fire was what caused the overpass to collapse. Luckily, the driver of the tank survived.
Losses: $3 billion
Whether this was purposeful or not is up for debate, but to the Average Joe, it certainly looks like George Lucas missed out. In 2013, the notorious filmmaker decided to hand the Star Wars franchise over to Disney for $4 billion.
George not only gave up the films, but he also gave up the rights to the merchandise. Star Wars merch has a revenue of $3 billion alone, so would it have been worth striking an entirely separate deal on that front? Perhaps.
Who: Mizuho Securities
Losses: $200 million+
This is possibly one of the gravest typos in history. In 2005, someone hit the wrong key in the Tokyo Stock Exchange – and the extra comma ended up costing businesses hundreds of millions of dollars. The error was from a trader at Mizuho Securities.
He tried to sell one share for 610,000 yen, but his typing error sold 610,000 shares at one yen each. By the time he realized the mistake, it was too late. An investigation was launched soon after to see how it happened.
Where: Atlantic Ocean
Losses: $3.2 billion
Before Elon Musk was sending astronauts into space with his specially designed rocket, five NASA astronauts and two payload specialists were on their way to orbit in 1986. Despite the Challenger having already completed nine flights, something went tragically wrong this time.
The Challenger disintegrated in 76 seconds when seals failed due to the cold weather. In less than a minute, over $3.2 billion in damages were created (and seven lives lost) in a tragic disaster that saw a ban on takeoffs for the next three years.
Where: Iberia Parish, Louisiana
Losses: $50 million
Lake Peigneur was a popular freshwater spot in Iberia Parish until 1980. Athletes used it to let off steam, while it was also the perfect place to bring the family. Then, Texaco started drilling for oil above the underwater salt mine, which may have caused the disaster.
A huge sinkhole swallowed over 65 acres that surrounded the lake, going from a 10-foot deep body of water to 200-foot deep. Miraculously, 55 men miners escaped uninjured. Texaco paid over $50 million in damages to local businesses.
Who: Decca Records
Before becoming global superstars, The Beatles was looking to sign with Decca Records. After seeing the band perform, they didn’t sign them, missing out on one of the most profitable bands the world has ever seen.
The Beatles went on to make billions. These days, their back catalog alone is worth $1 billion, while Paul McCartney himself has a hefty net worth of $924 million. That’s one financially devastating misjudgment if you asked us!
Where: Palencia, Spain
Who: City of Palencia
Losses: $11 million
Art restoration is a nuanced, time-consuming process involving intensive knowledge of both chemistry and art history. Typically, museums and cities will pay millions to top-tier renovators to preserve their priceless works of art.
However, in Palencia, Spain, they clearly tried to cut costs by hiring an okay restoration servicer, resulting in this butchering of a centuries-old statue into what locals call more of a “Potato Head.” While the financial damage is staggering, the damage to history is far worse.
Where: Texas, USA
Tesla’s Elon Musk has shifted his focus to SpaceX, his private company that is currently competing with the likes of NASA for space exploration. Musk’s current project centers around Mars exploration, though they recently had a large setback.
A SpaceX rocket exploded upon launch, though Musk still claims to consider the mission a success. He tweeted about the state of the tank pressure, how that affected touchdown velocity, and that the launch garnered plenty of data.
Where: Atlantic Ocean
Who: US Navy
The USS Gerald R Ford isn’t an ordinary US Navy ship. It’s a $12.8-billion-dollar wonder that should have the latest technology, considering how new it is. The ship was first commissioned in 2017 but has yet to get past beginning phases.
The ship has experienced countless problems over the last year, specifically with its nuclear system. Less than half of the vessel’s handling elevators are operational while more problems continue to arise. The Navy definitely hoped for better results.
Where: Northeast region
Who: Sir Adam Beck Hydroelectric Power Station No.2
Losses: $6 million
On November 9, 1965, over 30 million people across Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Ontario, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont were abruptly left without power. After something went wrong with a protective relay on the lines, the entire system failed.
Interconnected lines fell, plunging vast expanses into darkness. Businesses weren’t able to operate, while traffic lights failed. The blackout cost over $6 million in damages as different power plants struggled to rectify it.
Losses: $19 billion
It might seem like Mark Zuckerberg is a man who’s done everything right in his life, having a net worth of $76 billion at age 36. However, he’s not perfect. WhatsApp developer Brian Acton applied for a job at Facebook back in 2009 – but was rejected.
He ended up developing WhatsApp, the popular messaging app. Facebook eventually bought WhatsApp for a whopping $19 billion in 2014, making Acton and Koum very rich men. But Facebook could’ve had them in-house from the beginning with a little more foresight.
Who: Charles De Gaulle
Losses: $900 million
As passengers, we expect many inconveniences at the airport. Baggage delays, limited in-flight menu options – what we don’t expect is a terminal to collapse on us. In 2004, a portion of terminal 2E did just that. The disaster had a number of casualties.
Investigators later found that there were several structural problems with the terminal, including the concrete ceiling. Designer Paul Andreu blamed the companies that had built it for not ensuring the safety of the reinforced concrete. Damages ended up costing $900 million.
Where: Little Manatee River State Park, Florida
Who: Department of Environmental Protection
Controlled burns can clear large areas, but fire can spread. In 2011, the Department of Environmental Protection attempted to burn 25 acres of woodland in Little Manatee River State Park in Florida. Instead, the fire ravaged 125 acres when it got out of control.
It is unclear just how much this accident cost those responsible, but it most certainly wasn’t cheap. Fires can get quickly out of hand, destroying buildings and everything in its path to the tune of millions.
Where: Andersen Air Base, Guam
Who: United States Air Force
Losses: $1.4 billion
Back in 2008, a B-2 Stealth Bomber went nose first into the runway right after taking off at the Andersen Air Force Base in Guam. Investigators blamed the accident on heavy rain that had impaired the air-data sensors.
Miraculously, the two crew members managed to eject to safety before the plane hit the tarmac. The aircraft was completely wrecked, racking up over $1.4 billion in damages and thus making it the most expensive airplane crash ever recorded.
Where: New York
Who: Morgan Stanley
Losses: $9 billion
Howie Hubler was an unknown – but that all changed when he lost $9 billion for Morgan Stanley in 2007. At one point in 2006, Hubler was the golden child at Morgan Stanley, overseeing a team that made over 20% of the company’s profits.
Then everything started to turn, and the housing market crashed the following year. Hubler thought he had a good system, selling mortgage-backed CDOs and credit default swaps against them, but he was incorrect. His decisions alone ended up losing Morgan Stanley $9 billion.
Who: Owned by King Gustavus Adolphus
When the 69-meter-long ship Vasa was launched in 1628, no one predicted it would sink soon after. The ship had 145 sailors and 300 soldiers, as well as bronze cannons for weaponry. The structure wasn’t stable and carried way too much weight.
As soon as it hit strong winds, it tipped and sunk to the bottom of the ocean. The ship was recovered in 1961 and serves as one of the country’s most popular museums today.
Who: Russian Government
It’s impossible to say precisely how much money Russia could’ve made if the country hadn’t sold Alaska to America back in 1867 – but it’s safe to say it would’ve been a lot. The deal was made for $7.2 million, but if Russia had kept hold of it, who knows what its value would’ve been.
Alaska’s oil and gas industry alone has produced 17 billion barrels of oil, while the state as a whole has a GDP of $49 billion. That’s money Russia would’ve gladly used.
Losses: $990 billion
Google is one of the most profitable enterprises in the world, valued at close to a trillion dollars. It’s nearly impossible to imagine that Sergei Brin and Larry Page nearly sold the entire business to Yahoo in 1998 for a measly $1 million. Luckily for them, Yahoo declined.
Yahoo is now worth $10 billion. It’s obvious who the winner is here. It just goes to show that one man’s error is another man’s gain. Sergei Brin has $49 billion, while Larry Page is now worth $51 billion.
Where: Aberdeenshire, UK
Who: Fred and Lesley Higgins
Losses: $75 million
In 2018, Fred and Lesley Higgins bought a Euromillions ticket, only to be told they hadn’t won when they came to check the numbers. The ticket was ripped up and thrown away, but someone released the mistake at the last second.
In fact, they had won almost £58 million, aka $75 million. This was a close call but had the mistake gone unnoticed, the couple would’ve kissed goodbye to a life-changing amount of money that could’ve set their family up for life.
Losses: $350 million
Ford has become a leading force in the automotive industry, but that doesn’t mean the company is immune to loss. In the 1950s, designers and engineers labored to create the Edsel, a brand that they thought was destined for greatness.
However, only four years after production had started, the line was stopped. Despite putting hundreds of millions into it, Ford suffered a loss of over $350 million. The line went away with minimal fanfare in 1960, leaving the company upset and poorer for it.
Who: American Bureau of Shipping/London P&I Club
Losses: $2.8 billion
The environmental impact of oil spills is more than dangerous. The Prestige was carrying over 77,000 tons of heavy fuel oil when disaster happened in 2002. A storm caused a tank to burst, and with no permission to dock, the vessel sank to the bottom of the ocean.
Over 17.8 million gallons of fuel poured into the water, virtually annihilating the local fishing industry. The clean-up cost over $2.8 billion, making it one of the costliest disasters of its kind.
Where: New Jersey
Who: Deutsche Zeppelin-Reederei
Losses: $3 million
By 1937, the Hindenburg had already spent a year carrying passengers. When it collaborated with American Airlines to connect travelers from Lakehurst to Newark, it seemed like a safe bet. Unfortunately, everyone was wrong.
While docking in New Jersey on May 6, 1937, changing winds and other factors caused the airship to catch fire. Before long, it was consumed by flames and crashed down to the ground. 13 passengers and 22 crewmen died, while the $3 million airship was completely destroyed.
Losses: $6 billion
When space shuttles go round mid-flight, there is a very small chance that anyone on board will survive. Seven crew members learned that the hard way when the Space Shuttle Columbia broke up after reentering Earth’s atmosphere in February 2003.
The shuttle was minutes from landing when a piece of foam broke off from the tank and hit the left wing, causing serious damage. This caused the entire shuttle to break up and $6 billion in damages. In response, NASA grounded all launches for over two years.
Losses: $54 billion
When Yahoo hired Scott Thompson to be the CEO in 2012, they didn’t anticipate that he would end up costing more than his salary. Scott ended up making one of the most expensive mistakes. At that time, Yahoo had a stake in Alibaba.
Thompson concluded that they didn’t need 20% of that stake and sold it, even though the company was valued at $30 billion. After the sale, the value of Alibaba skyrocketed to over $300 billion, losing Yahoo $54 billion. Obviously, Scott has since moved on.
Losses: $1.4 billion
When Quaker made a deal to purchase Snapple in 1994, it was a big deal. Both brands were popular at the time, and the amount of money changing hands was unbelievable. Quaker paid $1.7 billion in cash to make the deal. They didn’t realize they’d end up regretting it.
Three years later, the company sold Snapple to Triarc Companies for a measly $300 million. Basically, Quaker wasted over $1.4 billion on buying Snapple when they should have just let it go to bigger bidders like Coca-Cola.
Where: Kansas City
In 1981, Hyatt Regency guests in Kansas City had no clue they were about to witness a horrific tragedy. Two walks imploded due to poor upkeep and neglect, making history as America’s most catastrophic accident of this kind.
The disaster was shocking and unlike anything seen before. It was incredibly expensive for the hotel chain. It’s unknown how much Hyatt had to payout, but it would’ve been a huge amount in building costs as well as piles of legal costs to the victims.
Who: Exelon Nuclear
Losses: $4 billion
The partial reactor meltdown that happened at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station in 1979 is the biggest accident of its kind on American soil. A bunch of failures caused a coolant leakage from the reactor, resulting in $4 billion in damages.
The reactor was too badly damaged and was forced to close. Clean-up took 24 years to finish. Not only was it very costly because of the damage it caused, but it lost Exelon Nuclear money in future profits once it had to be decommissioned.
Losses: $2.7 billion
When Sony purchased Columbia Pictures in 1989, the studio paid $3.4 billion on what seemed like a winning horse. However, Columbia wasn’t as successful for the initial five years following the deal, lacking breakaway hits to warrant what Sony paid for it.
In total, Sony lost billions of dollars in the first few years, but they’ve held on tight to the company ever since. The movie industry isn’t an exact science, so chances are this mistake eventually righted itself.
Who: Catholic Church
Losses: $4 million
The Leaning Tower of Pisa is one of the largest tourist attractions, but when it was completed in 1372, it wasn’t meant to lean at all. Due to the soft ground during the building process, the tower had a tilt of more than 5 degrees.
Work was done to try and rectify it in the early ’90s, which gradually changed the tilt to a little less than 4 degrees. The UNESCO World Heritage Site might have been a $4 million mistake, but at least it draws tourists.
Who: Theodore Cooper/Frants Lichtenberg
Losses: $1.5 million
The Quebec Bridge collapsed in 1907, killing 75 workers and injuring 11. The Quebec Bridge’s cantilever arm, south anchor arm, and half-completed section fell into the St. Lawrence River, sending the workers with it.
Theodore Cooper was the engineer in 1907and the failure of Chord A9R, which caused the collapse, was his responsibility. In 1916, Frants Lichtenberg was made aware of a problem with the central span countless times but ignored it. On September 11th of that year, it imploded and killed 13 workers.
Where: 210,000 miles above Earth
Who: Rockwell International, Grummen
Losses: $283 billion
When the astronauts on Apollo 13 were on their NASA space mission, they heard a loud bang. The astronauts on board thought at first that someone was playing a prank, but it quickly became clear that something was very wrong.
The second oxygen tank had exploded, and the first one was losing pressure fast. The oxygen was gone after three hours. Thankfully, the astronauts didn’t die—Apollo 13 crashed into the Pacific Ocean 87 hours after the first tank explosion.
Who: Kansai Airports
Losses: $20 million
Kansai International Airport had 25.2 million passengers in 2016, making it the 30th busiest airport in all of Asia. The Japanese airport was nominated for awards as recently as 2020. But Kansai isn’t perfect—it sank in 2018.
Typhoon Jebi hit the airport in 2018 and flooded runways. The water was so high that it reached the aircraft’s engines in the loading bay. Operations resumed a month later, but it wasn’t until April 2019 that the airport was fully fixed.
Who: Emaar Entertainment
The nightmare scenario of a cracking aquarium is exactly what happened in Dubai in 2010. An aquarium and shopping center were both emergency-evacuated when water began leaking from a massive aquarium, home to hundreds of deadly sharks.
A weakness in the panel joints caused the leakage. The aquarium’s maintenance staff immediately sprang into action, saving millions in potential damages and the lives of 33,000 sea creatures, all of which were fine.
Where: Germany (Daimler HQ)
Who: Daimler-Benz & Chrysler
Losses: $30.4 billion
Mercedes-Benz (owned by Daimler) purchased Chrysler in 1998. This deal lasted nine years and lost Daimler-Benz $37 billion. It sold the brand to Cerberus, a private equity firm, for $7.4 billion, losing $30.4 billion.
Cerberus was optimistic about the purchase, despite the challenges. The main reason Chrysler lost so much money was that Mercedes understood it didn’t want to share the luxury market with its new little brother. Daimler hustled Chrysler as a result.
Where: Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Who: Purity Distilling Company
Losses: $100 million
A molasses storage tank belonging to the Purity Distilling Company oozed 2.3 million gallons of molasses into the streets of Boston. The tanks burst, unleashing a rush of molasses traveling 35 mph.
The molasses killed 21 people and injured 150. For years afterward, the area smelled of molasses. Residents also remembered hearing a bang when the rivets shot out of the storage tank during the burst. It took months of scrubbing with saltwater and several hundred clean-up and rescue workers to repair the damage.
Where: Tacoma, Washington, USA
Who: Leon Moisseiff (lead engineer)
Four months after opening, the bridge’s main span collapsed. The collapse was a result of strong winds that led to aeroelastic flutter. It has been studied and has had lasting effects on the fields of engineering, physics, and science.
One major error in the design was the solid sides that didn’t let wind pass through to the deck. No human was killed in the collapse, but there was an even more devastating death: the loss of Tubby, a Cocker Spaniel.
Who: Sohel Rana
The Savar Building Collapse had 1,134 deaths and 2,500 injuries. Rescue efforts took a month to complete. The factory was built in 2006 by Sohel Rana, who falsified deeds and intimidated co-owners in the process.
In April 2013, there was an explosion in the factory. An engineer was called in to investigate and demanded immediate evacuation. Rana refused to allow the workers to exit, and the factory collapsed the following day. Rana was charged with murder and is still awaiting trial.
Where: Denver, Colorado, USA
Who: United Airlines, Inc.
Losses: $410 million
The Denver International Airport Baggage Handling System was a computerized system to replace airport baggage workers. It failed pitifully when it was introduced, causing delays and damage to customers’ bags for months. The system was finished the same year it was introduced.
Software failures resulted in the baggage claim eating peoples’ luggage. The network designers underestimated the complexity of the project. They didn’t think to add recovery capacity and backup, so the system wasn’t able to cope with and reboot after failures.
Where: Esperance, Australia
Losses: $2.2 billion
Skylab, launched in May 1973, was supposed to be an outpost that would propel America into the future but came crashing down six years later. Skylab was always designed to be temporary, with NASA engineers planning on it lasting nine years.
Skylab started failing in 1978 when the orbit of the station was rapidly decaying. Months later, NASA engineers shot booster rockets to hit Skylab and bring it down into the Indian Ocean. Instead, the shattered station landed in a remote Australian town.
Where: Okuma, Fukushima, Japan
Who: Tokyo Electric Power Company
Losses: $187 billion
The 2011 Tohoku earthquake resulted in a 46-foot tsunami that flooded the nuclear power plant’s nuclear reactors, emergency generators, and circulating pumps. A loss of cooling in the reactor core led to three nuclear meltdowns and three hydrogen explosions.
Radiative contamination went on for three straight days, with one person dying from cancer. The hydrogen explosions injured 16 people, and two workers went to the hospital for radiation burns. As of now, the power plant is permanently shut down.
Where: Athens, Greece
Who: The Greek Government
Losses: $1.7 billion
Greece’s Olympic Stadium in Athens was a huge sports complex to host the Olympic Games in 2004. Greece spent billions that it couldn’t afford and ended up taking a $1.7 billion loss that international organizations refused to help them with.
The stadium is now abandoned, with pretty much everything overgrown, cracked, and crumbling. It’s unclear whether the venue in Athens will ever make a revival, as very few companies in the struggling country—as well as the Greek government itself—could afford such an expensive clean-up.
Who: Terra Networks, Lycos, Inc.
Losses: $12.41 billion
Terra Networks, a Spanish internet company, purchased Lycos, a web search engine. Terra bought Lycos for $12.5 billion, and then Lycos abandoned its search engine in 2001. Lycos was once the eighth-most popular website in the world before the bubble crash.
Terra sold it in 2004 after three years of loss. Daum Communications bought it for $95.4 million, which was less than two percent of the original investment. Lycos is still around today but got rebranded as “Brightcom Group” in May 2018.
Where: Osaka, Japan
Who: Sumitomo Corporation
Losses: $1.8 billion
The metal trading scandal took place from 1986 until 1996, with the discovery of the scandal. Yasuo Hamanaka, the chief copper trader of Sumitomo Corp., the Japanese trading house, consulted without authorization on copper contracts for ten years.
It began as a way to make back losses quickly, but it developed into a ginormous fraudulent campaign involving false commercial justification and fake accounting of physical copper stores where there weren’t any. Hamanaka spent eight years in jail for corruption.
Where: Los Angeles, California, USA
Who: Los Angeles Department of Water & Power
Losses: $7 million
Categorized as American history’s “worst civil engineering failure,” the dam failure killed over 400 people and flooded miles of fertile farmland. William Mulholland, the chief engineer at the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, ruined his career because of the collapse.
There were no contraction joints in the dam, and cracks began to form. Mulholland inspected the cracks and concluded that they were a nonissue. March 1928 proved him wrong when12.4 billion gallons of water swept through the area.
Where: Zhumadian, Henan, China
Who: Chinese Government, The Soviet Union
Losses: $54.12 million
The collapse of China’s Banqiao Dam in 1975 affected 10.15 million people, 30 cities, and three million acres of land. The Banqiao Dam collapse caused 62 other dams to collapse, which were built by the Chinese and the Soviet Union governments.
The poor design caused the collapse. The governments responsible only focused on the dam’s goal of retaining water, overlooking the other crucial purpose of building a dam: preventing a flood. Between 85,600 to 240,000 people died as a result.
Where: Prince William Sound, Alaska, USA
Who: Exxon Shipping Company
Losses: $3.8 billion
On March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker, owned by the Exxon Shipping Company, was heading to Long Beach, California, when it crashed into Alaska’s Bligh Reef. The resulting spill dumped 10.8 million gallons of oil into the ocean.
Exxon Shipping attempted to evade responsibility, but an investigation found that the Company was responsible for not maintaining the crash-prevention radar (RAYCAS) and overloading the crew, causing fatigue from the infinite workload. The fatigue led a mate to steer the boat improperly.
Where: New York City, New York
Who: AOL, Time Warner
Losses: $98.7 billion
AOL announced that it was going to buy Time Warner. The purchase price was $182 billion in debt and stock, which made this purchase the largest merger in corporate history. In 2000, Time Warner was the largest global media/entertainment company.
The merger failed because of inaccurate expectations, aka corporate culture clashes. AOL thought it could get Time Warner’s cable customers. Time Warner thought it would acquire millions of subscribers. In real life, neither of these happened.
Where: Chicago, Illinois, USA
Who: Standard Oil of Indiana, Turner Construction, Edward Durell Stone
Losses: $80 million
In 1974, the Aon Center was constructed and encased with slabs of Italian Carrara marble. The marble was thinner than usual, and during building, a 350-pound slab fell off and smashed into the roof of the Prudential Center.
That wasn’t enough for the company to stop building. Inspectors found dangerous cracks 12 years later. Stainless steel straps weren’t enough to repair it, so the whole building had to be redone in granite for $80 million. It took two years to fix.
Where: MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
Who: Skanska USA, NER Construction Management, Frank Ghery
The Ray and Maria State Center is supposedly done in German Expressionism Style, but, in reality, it just looks bad. In 2007, MIT sued the construction, development, and architect companies, citing problems with the design.
The State Center was badly designed, which led to mold growth, leaks, cracked masonry, backed-up drainage, and emergency exit blockage by falling ice and debris. Gehry was the most liable for the damage, as he ignored warnings from consulting firms about design issues.
Where: Johnstown, Pennsylvania, USA
Who: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
Losses: $484 million
The Johnstown Flood was caused by the South Fork Dam’s catastrophic failure to handle unusually heavy rainfall, and the investigation was covered up. The wealthy, powerful members of the South Fork Fishing & Hunting Club altered the dam that affected its ability to withstand storms.
The initial investigation concluded that, despite the dam’s failure and the deaths of 2,209 people, there wasn’t anything wrong with South Fork, and it shouldn’t have collapsed. The actual cause wouldn’t be discovered until 2016, nearly a century later.
When: Early 1980s
Where: Kennedy Space Center (Florida, USA)
NASA finally admitted in 2009 that they recorded over the original moon landing tapes, which is disastrous yet also absurdly funny. The Apollo 11 moon landing tapes were taped from the SSTV onboard the ship.
The raw footage disappeared in the early ’80s. Investigators found that the Apollo 11 SSTV tapes were erased and recycled, which used to be NASA’s standard procedure. Now, all that is left is NTSC video and Super 8 film recording of the original SSTV transmission.
Losses: $25 billion
J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, pitched her books to 13 different publishers, getting rejected by 12. Bloomsbury decided to give the new author a chance, and now the franchise is worth $25 billion.
Bloomsbury did have a specific request for Rowling, to which she agreed. She had to use the “J.K.” instead of her first name, Joanne, because her publishers were nervous that young boys wouldn’t want to read a book series written by a female author.
Where: Tokyo, Japan (Sony HQ)
Who: Sony Entertainment
Losses: $18.2 billion
The Marvel franchise is worth over $18 billion and was worth $4.24 billion when Disney bought it in 2009. However, there was a possible buyer before Disney. Sony turned Marvel down twice. The franchise could have bought all of the Marvel rights for $25 million.
Instead, the company only bought the rights to Spider-Man for $10 million, along with five percent of Marvel movies’ revenue and fifty percent of consumer products revenue. Sony’s Marvel connection is worth far less than it could have been.
When: Late 1990s
Where: Dallas, Texas, USA (Blockbuster HQ)
Who: Blockbuster LLC
Losses: $125 billion
In the late ’90s, Blockbuster LLC. was offered the chance to buy Netflix for $50 million. Blockbuster’s CEO turned down the offer, and now, Blockbuster is done except for one branch in Bend, Oregon. Netflix is worth over $125 billion.
Netflix used to be a mail-in rental service and added a streaming platform. Blockbuster officially went bankrupt in 2010. There are rumors that Netflix killed Blockbuster, but Blockbuster lost money every year from 1996 until its closure, and Netflix was only founded in 1997.
Who: Balloon Art by Treb
Losses: $3.2 million
In 1985, Treb Heining and his friends thought it would be a good idea to release over 1.5 million balloons into the air above Cleveland. They’d set a world record, and they’d raise a lot of money for charity in the process. If only it were that easy.
Sadly, while the launch took off without an issue, organizers hadn’t taken into consideration where the balloons would land. Due to a change in the weather forecast, the gigantic number of balloons descended onto local lakes.
Where: Atlanta, Georgia (Coca-Cola HQ)
Who: The Coca-Cola Company
Losses: $34 million
New Coke serves as a cautionary tale about what happens when you attempt to change with a well-known brand in the name of competition. Coca-Cola became concerned that Pepsi, which has a subtly sweeter taste, was taking over the soda market.
Coca-Cola created New Coke as a way to counter the threat. The new formula was widely hated, particularly by Southerners. Despite focus groups revealing animosity towards changing a Southern tradition, Coke went through with New Coke anyway.
Where: Menlo Park, California
Losses: $2 trillion
The Xerox Alto was the first computer ever made to support an OS and was developed in the early ’70s. Apple and Macintosh were based on the Alto. Only 2,000 were ever produced and were never marketed.
The company didn’t realize the value of what it had. Otherwise, they might not have invited Steve Jobs and other computer developers to copy the design of the Alto. It wasn’t until Macintosh was released in the early ’80s that Xerox recognized the opportunity it had squandered.
Where: US, Japan
Who: Atari, competitor video game companies
Losses: $3.1 billion
The video game crash took place from 1983 until 1985 and lost billions. The video game industry’s revenues peaked in 1983, earning $3.2 billion. Two years later, they plummeted 97% to $100. A flooded console market, loss of publishing control, the mutiny in Atari, and the development of PCs all contributed to the industry crash.
Games were overproduced, causing market inflation. One game, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, had over 782,000 cartridges buried in a landfill in New Mexico to get rid of the surplus.
Where: Rochester, NY (then the HQ)
Who: Western Union
Losses: $551.7 billion
Alexander Graham Bell developed the telephone. He patented the technology in 1876, and he went to Western Union with his invention. Western Union turned him away, as the company thought that telegrams would be the future—not telephones.
Rejected but not one to quit, Alexander Graham Bell, a former teacher for the hearing-impaired, founded his own company, Bell Telephone, which would go on to dominate American telecommunications for years.
Where: Seoul, South Korea
Who: The Sampoong Group
Losses: $364 million
In 1987, the Sampoong Group built the Sampoong Department Store on a landfill. Lee Joon, the head of the construction division, altered the designs to replace support columns with escalators. Woosung Construction, the original construction company, refused the changes. Joon fired them and continued building.
In 1995, Joon and his company ignored cracks that appeared. For five hours before the collapse, loud bangs were heard from the top floor, and Joon also ignored these warning signs. That evening, the building collapsed, killing 502 and injuring 1,445.
Who: Samsung SDI, Contemporary Amperex Technology
Losses: $17 billion
Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 cost Samsung $17 billion in revenue. When released in 2016, battery issues caused the phone to combust, explode, and overheat. Samsung vowed to fix the issue, hiring another company to make a new battery.
The new battery had problems as well, and the Note 7 phones kept exploding. The two recalls happened within a month of each other as the replacements kept exploding. In 2017, Samsung suggested never charging the phones past 15%. By March of 2017, the phone was discontinued.
Where: Boston, Massachusetts
Who: Parsons Brinckerhoff, Bechtel
Losses: $22 billion
The project was supposed to reroute I-93 into a new tunnel and make changes to the roadway. The Big Dig, which was originally supposed to cost $7.4 billion, was the costliest highway project in America.
The tunnel was supposed to be finished by the late ’90s, but delays, design flaws, leaks, poor execution, substandard materials, and cost overruns ruined the project. It was semi-completed in 2004, ended up costing $22 billion, and won’t be paid off until 2038.
When: 2008, 2011
Where: Bern, Switzerland
Who: Studio Libeskind
The Westside Shopping and Leisure Centre building is designed at various angles covering 1.5 million square feet. The project’s roof has fallen twice since it was built in 2008, once that same year and then again in 2011. The first collapse was over a fast-food restaurant.
The second collapse injured three and almost killed a small child standing nearby. The second collapse happened over the indoor swimming pool, with pieces of the roof and insulation falling onto the swimmers below.
Where: Sant’Agata, Bolognese, Italy
Who: Ferrari, Lamborghini
Losses: $11 billion
Ferruccio Lamborghini was a tractor-builder before he designed his legendary supercar. Before creating his own car, Lamborghini owned two Ferraris but found that he struggled with their clutches. After investigating, Lamborghini realized that the clutch on the Ferrari was the same as on a Lamborghini tractor.
Lamborghini confronted Ferrari about the clutch; Ferrari insulted him and then challenged Lamborghini to build his own car, since he was so smart. Lamborghini did just that, and now, Automobili Lamborghini S.p.A. is worth $11 billion and is Ferrari’s biggest rival.
Where: Guangzhou, China
Who: Zaha Hadid
Designed by architect Zaha Hadid, the Guangzhou Opera House took five years to complete. Hadid was inspired by rocks washing up on the Pearl River riverbank. The Opera House had a lot of issues when it first started.
When it opened, there was gossip of sub-standard construction, which caused cracks in granite slabs. Guangzhou has a humid climate, which was one of the reasons cracks formed. Glass panels from the Opera House windows also fell and, in 2009, the building caught on fire.
Where: Sunnyvale, California (HQ)
Losses: $45-$60 million
Yahoo bought Flickr in 2005 for $35 million. There was immediate culture clash, with Yahoo making deep cuts to the Flickr engineering team. Both of the founders of Flickr left disgusted. Yahoo also purchased Delicious that same year.
The founder of Delicious, Josh Schachter, had a positive attitude about working with Yahoo until they forced him out too in 2007. He said Yahoo fired his employees and deprived him of responsibilities. Now, Yahoo has a notorious reputation as a company you don’t want to be acquired by.
Where: Gonesse, France
Who: Aerospatiale-BAC Concorde
Losses: $125 million
Air France Flight 4590 crashed on the runway, killing 113 people (109 on the plane plus 4 on the ground) and injuring six. The plane crashed after running over garbage on the runway. The debris caused a tire to burst and trash to fly into the left wing.
The fuel tank in the left wing was too full and resulted in its immediate rupture and explosion. Continental Airlines was responsible for the debris on the runway. Concorde and Continental had to pay millions in compensation to victims’ families.
Where: Quintinshill, Dumfriesshire, Scotland
Who: Caledonian Railway
The Gretna Rail Disaster killed 226 people and injured 246, making it the deadliest rail catastrophe in UK history. The first collision happened when a troop carrier consisting of multiple trains traveling to Liverpool hit a stationary train.
A minute later, a sleeping car smacked into the wreckage. The gas ignited and started a gigantic fire, killing half of the soldiers on board. Two signalmen were found to have been at fault. They were in jail for a year and then, surprisingly, rehired by a railway company.
Where: Charlotte, North Carolina, USA (HQ)
Who: Hoover Vacuum Cleaners
Losses: $5.7 billion
James Dyson’s original idea was a bagless vacuum that wouldn’t lose suction. He created the idea after becoming upset with the performance of his Hoover vacuum. After bringing his idea to life, Dyson went to present his invention to Hoover.
Hoover turned it down. Dyson founded his own company, and his idea was successful. Hoover would later steal Dyson’s idea with its Triple Vortex Vacuum. It went to court, and Dyson was awarded $5.19 million ($7.51 million with inflation).
Where: Somewhere in the Mississippi River
Who: John Litherbury Boatyard
Losses: $5 million
The Sultana Disaster is lesser known because the Civil War was ending right around the same time and overshadowed the tragedy. The Sultana exploded in 1863, killing 1,100 – 1,547 people. The Sultana routinely carried more than her 400-person capacity.
Two boilers exploded due to water level neglect, which caused the ship to sink. The boilers’ metal was also brittle. The gross water from the Mississippi River fed the boilers, causing dirt to accumulate and form clogs. All of these factors led to the explosion.
Where: Valentia, Ontario, Canada
Who: The Atlantic Telegraph Company
Losses: Over $1 million
Telegraphic communication was new technology in the 1850s, and the Trans-Atlantic Telegraph Cable made communication possible across the ocean. The first cable was laid down but only functioned for three weeks.
Wildman Whitehouse tried to boost transmission speed to the cable, but he ended up overpowering the voltage (2,000 volts). The first cable failure was disastrous, and public confidence was so low that there almost was no second cable. Some journalists even hinted that the first cable was a hoax.
Where: Edison, New Jersey/Milpitas, California
Who: Ford Motor Company
Losses: $121 million
The Ford Motor Company manufactured the Ford Pinto from 1971-1980, and it was known for exploding. The Pinto drew scrutiny when a series of crashes and fires were all caused by the Pinto tanks rupturing after rear-ending collisions.
In a shocking 1968 leaked “Pinto Memo,” Ford execs debated the cost of saving lives vs. economic damage. Fixing the damage cost $137 million, while Ford found that the “benefit to society” was worth $49.5 million. Ford didn’t make the changes, and 27-180 deaths occurred.
Losses: $150 million
In November 1978, Firestone announced that it would recall 14.5 million steel-belted tires. Firestone began producing radial tires in the early ’70s in order to compete with Goodyear and Michelin. It sold the tires before it had perfected them on paper.
Firestone was using their customers to test out their tire design. After a state trooper was killed from tire failure, Firestone came under government scrutiny and had to recall the 500 brand. The 500s caused 40 known deaths and thousands of accidents.
Where: New Orleans, Louisiana
Who: Army Corps of Engineers
Losses: $169 billion
Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans, causing 1,833 deaths and $169 billion in damages. One of the costliest hurricanes on record, New Orleans is still recovery 15 years later. The hurricane had wind speeds as high as 174 mph and rained 2.3 trillion gallons of water.
The levees in New Orleans weren’t strong enough for the storm. The Army Corps of Engineers tried to blame Katrina’s size, but it was the levees’ construction. The sheet piling wasn’t deep enough, causing poor reinforcement for the floodwalls and levees.
Who: Aloha Airlines
Losses: $5.2 million
Flight 243 was a Hawaiian flight, with a Boeing 737-297 flying between Hilo and Honolulu. During the flight, there was an explosive decompression, a result of maintenance errors and metal fatigue. Only one person, a flight attendant named Clarabelle Lansing, didn’t survive.
Lansing was ejected from the plane as a result of the decompression. Of the 95 passengers and crew, 65 suffered injuries. Though the aircraft was damaged, Captain Bob Schornstheimer and First Officer Mimi Tompkins were able to land the plane safely.
Where: Bhopal, Madya Pradesh, India
Who: Union Carbide India Limited
Losses: $860 million
The Bhopal Disaster was a pesticide leak where the plant’s tanks and safety equipment failed, so the gas leaked directly over 500,000 people. Thousands of people were dead the following morning from diseases caused by the exposure like choking and pulmonary edema.
The Bhopal Disaster has 3,787 known deaths, though that’s an estimation. Some reports say that, with all the damage and exposure, the actual death toll is closer to 16,000. At least 558,125 people suffered injuries, and damages were about $1 billion.
Where: Cape Canaveral Launch Complex 34, Cape Canaveral, Florida
Who: NASA, North American Aviation
Losses: $25 billion
The Apollo 1 was the initial crewed mission for the U.S. Apollo Program’s moon landing. The NASA program planned the initial test of the Apollo C&S module. It was scheduled to launch in February 1967 and take two weeks.
However, on January 27, 1967, Apollo 1 was doing a rehearsal test when a fire broke out in the interior. It killed all three crew members and was allegedly caused by electric arcs in the cabin, combined with a pure oxygen atmosphere.
Where: Allone, France
Who: Royal Airship Works, V.C. Richmond
Losses: $58.34 million
The R101’s crash basically ended British airships and killed 48 people, 46 of whom died immediately. The airship underwent heavy testing before the initial flight, so it was surprising when it crashed.
The R101 didn’t do well in inclement weather, like rain, as the rainwater would collect in the ballast tanks. The weather forecast was initially positive but changed when a windy, rainy storm hit. The R101 tried flying anyway but crashed before reaching its destination.
Where: Tay Rail Bridge, UK
Who: North British Railway
Losses: $1.46 million
The Tay Bridge Disaster of 1879 killed around 75 people. A train passed over the bridge during a violent storm, the bridge collapsed, and both went into the water. No one survived, though 15 weren’t recovered.
Sir Thomas Bouch designed the Tay Bridge with narrow piers. Also, the Bridge’s cross-bracing was weaker and not as extensive as similar Bouch designs. The architect died a year after the Bridge collapsed, his reputation ruined.
Where: New York City, New York
Who: Hugh Stubbins, Emery Roth & Sons, Boston Properties, KlingStubbins, Le Messurier Consultants
Losses: $8 million
LeMessurier Consultants was one of the main designers of the Citigroup Skyscraper. They found that the building was extremely unsafe because it couldn’t stand up to quartering winds due to vulnerable connection joints. LeMessurier convinced Citigroup to fix the problem secretly.
Crews worked in the middle of the night to weld two-inch steel plates over the skyscraper’s 200 joints. The dangerous error was hidden from people for 20 years before The New Yorker ran an article in 1995.
Where: New York, New York
Who: The New York Times Company
The New York Times, in December 2011, meant to send an email to a couple hundred customers who had recently canceled their subscriptions. The email offered a 50% discount on NYT for four months to convince them to reconsider.
But the magazine accidentally sent it to 8.6 million people who had canceled subscriptions, not just a few hundred. The Times then commented that they didn’t send the email, which wasn’t true. Money-wise, the damage costs were unknown, but reputation-wise, The Times definitely took a hit.
Where: London, England
Who: British Airways
Losses: $102 million
A 2017 IT failure ended up costing British Airways $105 million in revenue, but also accommodating and re-booking thousands of passengers. The IT error, due to a power surge, led BA to cancel all departing flights from London’s Gatwick and Heathrow Airports.
The IT meltdown left the airline struggling to contact support staff. For three days, the flight schedule was messed up, which was especially inconvenient, as this was a holiday weekend. Passengers slept on the terminal floors while they waited for the situation to be resolved.
Where: Boston, Massachusetts
Who: Fidelity Investments
Losses: $24 million
One Fidelity Investments tax account found how bad spreadsheet mistakes can be when they transcribed a net capital loss of $1.3 billion from the Magellan fund onto a spreadsheet but forgot to put the negative sign.
The result was a $4.32/share year-end dividend distribution after the net loss became a gain. The dividend estimation was apparently off by $2.6 billion. Fidelity’s managing director had to send a bashful email saying that they weren’t getting a massive windfall.
Where: London, England
Who: London Olympics Committee
Losses: Over $1 million
A staff member accidentally typed “20,000” instead of “10,000” into a cell on the London Olympic Committee spreadsheet. This meant that the Committee sold 10,000 tickets for seats that weren’t there at synchronized swimming.
When the overbooking mistake was caught, the Committee had to compensate by upgrading ticket holders. Instead of attending smaller synchronized swimming heats, the 10,000 phantom fans got to attend major events. The loss was calculated to be worth over $1 million.
Where: New York, New York
Losses: $545 million
When NewsCorp’s Rupert Murdoch purchased MySpace for $545 million in 2005, the social networking site had 16 million users a month and was growing significantly. NewsCorp thought that MySpace would be the only social networking site.
Facebook launched in 2006, but it only started competing with MySpace in 2008. In 2006 and 2007, MySpace’s peak, Facebook was basically irrelevant, as its target audience was college-aged kids. When NewsCorp tried to sell it again five years later, Facebook was gaining momentum, and MySpace was only worth $35 million.
It can take years to break in an instrument fully, so when Canadian virtuoso Angela Hewitt hired movers to handle her incredibly rare, $194,000-dollar piano, she completely trusted them. She didn’t expect them to drop it and smash it to pieces.
Angela took to Facebook to talk about the incident, saying that essentially every part of the piano was completely destroyed. She was heartbroken by this loss, as she truly considered her piano one of her friends.
Where: San Francisco
Losses: $95 billion
Besides Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, Apple once had a third partner. Ron Wayne held a 10% share in the company back in the 1970s when he came on board to help steer the young founders.
10% of the small enterprise at the time didn’t seem like a safe bet. Wayne had possessions that could get seized if the business went under, so after less than two weeks on board, he sold his share back to Wozniak and Jobs for $800. Today, 10% would be equal to $95 billion.
Who: Monberg & Thorsen, Sir Robert McAlpine
Losses: $5 million
Construction began on a new bridge across the River Thames in 2000. Given the $20 million price tag, excited Londoners were surprised to see it excessively wobble when they walked across it.
The flaw also surprised engineers, who soon realized it was a phenomenon that occurs when too many people cross the bridge. In order to repair it, they requested an additional $5 million and fitted 37 viscous fluid dampers between 2001 to 2002 to try and disperse the energy.
Where: San Francisco Bay Area, California, USA
Losses: $14.466 billion
One of the most catastrophic earthquakes in the history of the US was the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, which struck the San Francisco Bay Area along the San Andreas Fault early in the morning on Wednesday, April 18th.
The earthquake had a moment magnitude of 7.9. More than 3,000 people died, and over 80% of the city of San Francisco was destroyed. To this day, the number of casualties is the highest for any Californian natural disaster in the state’s history.
Where: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama
Who: Army Corps of Engineers
Losses: $217.46 billion
A natural disaster that caused billions in damage was Hurricane Katrina, a Category 5 Atlantic storm that killed over 1,800 people. Katrina was the fourth most intense Atlantic hurricane ever to hit land. Katrina had winds reach 175 mph.
The damage would have been less had the levees in New Orleans been engineered better by the Army Corps. of Engineers. Though ACE tried to say that Katrina was too big a storm, forensics found that key levees failed even before Katrina actually fully hit.
Where: Kanto Plain, Honshu, Japan
Losses: $800 billion-$1.2 trillion
The Great Kanto Earthquake struck Japan in 1923. The earthquake was a 7.9 on the magnitude scale, striking deep underneath Sagami Bay. The resulting hurricane was so strong that it moved Kamakura’s holy, 242,000-pound Great Buddha statue almost two feet.
This was shocking, especially when considering that Kamakura sits 37 miles from the epicenter. After the earthquake caused the hurricane, additional disasters like extensive firestorms, fire tornados, and civil unrest compounded the death toll.
Where: Victoria Australia
Losses: $5.65 billion
The Black Friday bushfires remain one of the worst bushfires in the history of Australia. Eastern Australia is very fire-prone, and the 1938-1939 bushfire season was made even worse by years of drought coupled with a period of extreme heat (110-112 degrees Fahrenheit).
On January 13, 1939, bushfires burned 4.9 million acres of land, killing 71 people and destroying entire towns. More than 1,300 homes, 69 sawmills, and 3,700 buildings were obliterated.
Where: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Who: U.S National Parks Service
Losses: $267.29 million
The flames began as small, individual fires that combined into a giant conflagration that burned for months, eventually burning 793,880 acres. The entire park closed to non-emergency personnel, a first in its history. 42 of the smaller fires were caused by lightning, the other two by humans.
There were two civilian deaths. 4,000 soldiers were brought in to help suppress the fires, as other land management agencies weren’t able to handle the situation. The fires only stopped when it began to rain, bringing cooler weather.