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December 8: Naval and Air Disasters Make it a Cursed Day for Crete

Naval disaster Crete
The ferryboat “Heraklion” sank at Falkonera in 1966. More than 200 people were killed. Public Domain

The city of Chania in Crete has terrible memories of December 8, as two major disasters occurred in the space of only three years, with a loss of more than 300 lives between them.

On December 8, 1966, a ferry on the Chania-Piraeus route sank off the rocky islet of Falkonera. More than 200 people were killed in one of the worst naval disasters in modern Greek history.

Ferry was destined for Piraeus

The ferryboat “Heraklion” sailed from Souda Bay, Crete, to the port of Piraeus, with a crew of 73 and 191 passengers on board, at 8:00 pm on Dec. 7, 1966. Gale force winds of 9 Beaufort magnitude were blowing at the time.

At around 2:00 AM, almost halfway through the voyage, and while sailing south of the small rocky island of Falkonera, a refrigerator truck carrying oranges that was loosely secured started banging into one of the gigantic loading doors of the ferry.

The door eventually opened and the truck plummeted into the sea, allowing seawater to flood the ship’s holds. It took just 15 to 20 minutes for the vessel to capsize.

It was at 2:06 AM on Thursday, Dec. 8, 1966, when the distress signal “SOS from Heraklion at 36° 52′ N 24° 08′ E. “We are sinking” was sent out. The ferryboat soon was gone, taking with it a total of 217 passengers and crew members. Only 30 passengers and 16 crew members were rescued.

Naval disaster Crete
Greek newspapers report on the loss of the boat at Falkonera.

Flight from Crete crashed on the same day three years later

On the very same day just three years later, 85 passengers and crew members were killed when a plane on a route between Chania and Athens crashed into a mountainous area of Keratea, Attica.

While on approach to Athens, and with its undercarriage retracted, the aircraft struck Mount Paneio at an altitude of approximately 2,000 feet. The weather at the time of the crash consisted of rain and high winds.

The crash of Flight 954 was the deadliest aviation accident in Greek history at the time it took place, a record it maintained until the crash of Helios Airways’ Flight 522 nearly thirty-six years later.

It is still the deadliest aviation accident involving a Douglas DC-6, and the deadliest crash in the history of Olympic Airways.

It is not surprising that in the aftermath of the second disaster, the municipal council of Chania declared December 8 as a “Cursed Day” for the town.

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