Hawai‘i has endured its share of disasters—tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, hurricanes, fires, ship sinkings, air crashes, and the like—but few years in its history have matched 1944.
The first of that year’s major disasters took place on May 21 at Pearl Harbor, during preparations for the forthcoming invasion of Saipan. LST-353, loading mortar ammunition, burst into flame and exploded with a roar that could be heard all over O‘ahu and far out to sea. This triggered explosions on eight other craft. Deaths numbered 163; those injured, 396. This disaster was the fifth most destructive to human life in Hawaiian history, but except for a brief inside-page item five days later, no press account appeared until mid-June.
The next major disaster occurred June 8, when two Army medium bombers collided in midair over Kalihi and plunged to earth, setting fire to eleven or twelve dwellings. Ten women and children perished in the burning buildings, as well as the four crewmen.
Three days later another explosion shook the Naval Ammunition Depot, killing ten men who were transferring ammunition.
The Territory’s worst motor vehicle accident, until that time, occurred July 2, 1944, when an Army truck on Farrington Highway in Waialua struck a parked vehicle and overturned on six pedestrians walking alongside the roadway. Seven persons were killed: six boys, aged six to fifteen, and a passenger in the Army truck. The driver was found to be intoxicated and was charged with seven counts of manslaughter. The only other automobile accident in Island history to kill as many as seven persons took place in 1969.
On November 14, in the last major catastrophe of 1944, all seventeen persons aboard a C-54 flight to the Mainland died when the plane crashed into the sea fifty miles from O‘ahu.
By Robert C. Schmitt