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February 17, 2022

Robert Madden’s Guatemalan Plane Crash, the Most Intense Photo Ever Taken

It turns out it’s absolutely a case of impeccable photography by Robert W. Madden, who was at the right place at the right time and managed to frame the shot perfectly. This image was taken in Guatemala in the aftermath of a magnitude 7.5 earthquake which struck Guatemala City on February 4, 1976.

(© Robert W. Madden)

Bob Madden worked for National Geographic magazine and was in Guatemala covering the rescue and recovery operations. He had apparently just disembarked from another aircraft and was standing on the highway near Sanarate.

The rescue plane was bringing food and medicine to the quake victims. It was trying to land on the highway when it got caught in strong crosswinds. Amazingly, no one was seriously injured. The two men on the left of the photograph leapt from the pick-up truck just before the crash, adding an undeniable personal aspect to this unbelievable photograph of the aircraft impacting the truck.

This spectacular photograph was featured in the June 1976 issue of National Geographic which was dedicated to the earthquake. The photo was also selected by the editors of National Geographic as one of the 50 Greatest Pictures from the pages of the magazine.

(© Robert W. Madden)

With a magnitude of 7,5, it was the most destructive earthquake that struck Guatemala since 1917. More than 23,000 people were killed in the main shock and thousands of aftershocks. Food and water supplies were severely reduced and some areas were without electricity and means of communication for days afterwards.


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