Monthly Archives: July 2017

The Lake Nyos Tragedy

Lake Nyos two weeks after the tragedy--US Geological Survey.

Lake Nyos two weeks after the tragedy–US Geological Survey.

Natural disasters come in many forms.  From tornadoes, to hurricanes, to volcanic eruptions and everything in between, Mother Nature has many ways to unleash her fury on humanity.  Most types of natural disasters come with at least some sort of warning.  For example, bad storms can presage a tornado, and hurricanes can be predicated days ahead of time.

However, there is one subset of disaster that occurs with little or no warning.  It is silent, invisible, and deadly.  Such an event happened in the environs around Lake Nyos in Cameroon, Africa, on August 21, 1986, when the lake released a deadly cloud of CO2 that killed over 1700 people.

Lake Nyos sits in the crater of an extinct volcano.  Its lower levels are rich in CO2 bubbling up from the remnants of the volcano.  This typically was not a problem, as the heavier waters of the surface layers kept the gas rich deeper waters under enough pressure that it was kept in solution.  However, in the days leading up to the tragedy, there had been a lot of rain.  This cooler water was denser than the warmer lake water, and essentially overturned the upper layers of the lake, essentially flip-flopping the upper and lower layers of the lake.  This made the carbon dioxide rich lower layers rise to the surface and release the deadly gas all at once.

The gaseous cloud quickly swamped the shores of the lake and quickly traveled downhill to the surrounding villages, where people asleep in bed were suffocated without even knowing what had happened.  Those who were awake found themselves weak and disoriented.  Some 1700 people, 3000 cattle, and innumerable wild animals died in the tragic event.

These days, Lake Nyos is quiet.  French scientists installed plastic piping in the bottom of the lake to slowly vent the deadly gasses that accumulate in the depths.  This has changed the lake from its former pristine blue color to a rusty red, but that is a small price to pay for preventing the tragedy of 1986 from happening again.



Cameroon's Lake Nyos Gas Burst: 30 Years Later

The Fake Assassination of Queen Elizabeth II

By ElizabethIItroopingcolour.jpg: Sandpiperderivative work: SilkTork (talk) - ElizabethIItroopingcolour.jpg, Public Domain,

By ElizabethIItroopingcolour.jpg: Sandpiperderivative work: SilkTork (talk) – ElizabethIItroopingcolour.jpg, Public Domain,

On December 9, 1980, the world was rocked by the assassination of John Lennon by the deranged Mark David Chapman, an act which will give the latter eternal infamy for snuffing out the light of a musical genius.  Only four months later on March 30, 1981, John Hinckley Jr. attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan.  He wounded the President and three secret service agents.  James Brady, one of the wounded agents, died in 2014 due to complications directly stemming from the wound he received in 1981.  President Reagan himself came close to death, but ultimately survived.  The perpetrator became infamous not only for his attempt on the President’s life, but for the deranged reason he perpetrated the act: he was stalking the actress Jodie Foster, and he thought assassinating the President would impress her enough that she would fall in love with him.

No doubt both individuals were twisted, and their acts inspired feverish coverage in the media that put their names on lips around the world.  This inspired another twisted individual to engage in an attempted assassination that is largely forgotten today, but had circumstances been different it might have shook the world a third time and led to another famous name being linked in infamy to the person who violently snuffed out their life.  The target was none other than Queen Elizabeth II, and the assailant was a teenager named Marcus Simon Sarjeant, who wanted to become “The most famous teenager in the world.”


The Fake Assassination

On June 13, 1981, Queen Elizabeth II was participating in a parade to kick off the Trooping the Colour ceremony.  Mounted on her favorite horse, the then 19 year old Burmese, she had only been riding for 15 minutes from Buckingham Palace when a man among the crowd, 17-year old Marcus Sarjeant, leveled a pistol at the monarch and fired off six shots.  Fortunately for the Queen, the weapon was a starting pistol loaded with blank rounds.  Guardsmen and police piled on to the would-be assassin.  As this was happening, the Queen calmed her started horse, retaining the cool, calm demeanor befitting a British monarch during the whole affair.  The procession continued, and the Queen returned to Buckingham Palace by the same route, this time with tighter security.


A Bizarre Plot

Marcus Sarjeant was a former air cadet from Folkestone, Kent.  The youth had originally planned to kill the Queen, but he was unable to obtain an actual fire arm.  His plan then changed to using a starting pistol to startle the Queen as she rode by, perhaps hoping her horse would throw her in the process.  When asked why he fired on the Queen with blanks, he replied “I wanted to be famous.  I wanted to be a somebody.”

Sarjeant was later sentenced to five years in prison under the 1842 Treason Act.  The teen pleaded guilty to the crime and apologized, but the judge saw fit to sentence him for five years due to the “public outrage” the youth had inspired.  The investigation into the matter turned up proof that Sarjeant was fascinated by assassinations and had followed the attempt on Reagan’s life closely.  Sarjeant served three years in a mental institution before being released.  Upon release, he changed his name and began a new life, apparently abandoning his quest for infamy.