5 People in the Wrong Place, at the Wrong Time—Multiple Times



1. Tsutomu Yamaguchi

At 8:15 am on August 6, 1945, Tsutomu Yamaguchi (above)—who was in Hiroshima on a business trip for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries—was stepping off a streetcar when a plane passed overhead. He looked to the sky and saw two parachutes descending—and, the next instant, the atomic bomb Little Boy exploded. The blast site was less than two miles away from where Yamaguchi stood. The flash of heat left him with burns across his torso, and the blast ruptured his eardrums and temporarily blinded him. He found his way to a bomb shelter, and the next day was healthy enough to make the journey back home—to Nagasaki.

On August 9, Mr. Yamaguchi was well enough to make it in to work. At the exact moment that he was explaining to his boss how Little Boy had destroyed the city of Hiroshima, he saw the same white flash in the office window. Fat Man, the second atomic bomb, had just detonated over the city.

Tsutomu Yamaguchi is the only officially recognized survivor of the two bombings (there are about 165 double survivors of the bombs, called nijyuu hibakusha, who have not been recognized by the Japanese government). He lived to be 93 years old.

2. The Desarmes Family

Ferries in Haiti transporting survivors of the 2010 earthquake from the island via Wikimedia Commons

Like many Haitian families with the means to do so, the Desarmes were eager to leave the destruction following the earthquake that struck the country on January 12, 2010. Pierre Desarmes had personal contacts with the Chilean armed forces, and was able to secure a flight for his family from Haiti to a new home just south of Santiago, Chile. But less than a month later, Chile experienced an 8.8 magnitude earthquake.

The family was deeply unsettled by the coincidence. "I left my country and came here because of an earthquake. And here, the same thing!" said Seraphin Philomene, Pierre’s cousin. Hopefully, this family has been able to find some peace and safety since.

3. and 4. Jason and Jenny Cairns-Lawrence

Jenny and Jason Cairns-Lawrence, an English couple from the Midlands, don’t sound like harbingers of destruction. However, they have managed to be accidentally vacationing in three cities that were rocked by terrorist attacks.

Their first disastrous trip was to New York City in 2001, where their sightseeing coincided with the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. After this experience, the couple chose their next trip based on its unlikelihood of being the target of a large-scale terrorist operation: London. During their visit, a series of suicide attacks on the London Underground killed 52 people and injured 700. It was the first suicide attack of its kind in the country’s history.

Not to be put off traveling by two harrowing national disasters, Jenny and Jason set out again in 2008, this time to Mumbai, India. They were there on November 26, when gunmen from the Pakistani terrorist group Lashkar-e-Tayyiba attacked several landmark buildings in the city, killing 164 people.

Having witnessed these cities in the immediate aftermath of their respective tragedies, the couple offered the press some observations on the mood. Jenny told The Telegraph of Calcutta, India, “I can’t imagine somebody opening his shop the next day (after) his brother was felled by terrorists. He looks sad but he is ready to pick up the pieces of his life and move on. As I look around, it’s impossible to tell that such a ghastly thing had happened. In New York, people carried the look of terror in their eyes for weeks after the carnage. In London, the police appeared more scared than the people.”

In the same article, Jenny further explained her perspective on the series of unfortunate events which follow her vacation plans: “I shouldn’t be laughing about it but it is some strange coincidence for sure. The terror attacks just happened when we were in the cities. Maybe, we will think about putting it down on paper some day, but neither of us is a good writer.”

5. Austin Hatch

Austin Hatch survived two separate plane crashes that killed five members of his immediate family. 

In 2003, he endured a small plane crash that killed his mother, sister, and brother. His father, an anesthesiologist, was the pilot of the aircraft. Austin’s father lived to fly again, which eventually turned to tragedy. In 2011, he piloted another small plane to a fatal crash. Austin’s father and stepmother did not survive. Austin, however, made it out again. He was in a coma for 8 weeks and suffered a number of other serious injuries that made total recovery seem doubtful.

Not only has he recovered fully, but Austin has committed to join the basketball team at the University of Michigan. In his first game back with his high school team after his convalescence, Hatch made the very first shot he took.