Series: Seconds From Disaster

"Disasters don't just happen. They're a chain of critical events. Unravel the fateful decisions in those final, Seconds from Disaster."

Seconds From Disaster is a Documentary series on the National Geographic Channel. The program investigates historically relevant man-made and natural disasters. Each episode aims to explain a single incident by analyzing the causes and circumstances that ultimately affected the disaster. The series uses re-enactments, interviews, testimonies, and CGI to analyze the sequence of events second-by-second for the audience.

Narrators for the show include Ashton Smith (American narrator for seasons 1 to 3), Richard Vaughan (British narrator for seasons 1 and 2; narrator from season 4 onwards) and Peter Guinness (British narrator for season 3).


This series provides examples of:

Narrator:"Advanced computer simulation will take us to where no camera can go... into the heart of the disaster zone."
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Several disasters featured in-series are found to be the result of good old-fashion corruption and cutting corners on safety regulations at the behest of a high-ranking suit trying to save money.
  • Disaster Dominoes: Investigating how these unfold in Real Life disasters is the premise of the series.
    • Collision on the Runway: A bomb planted in Gran Canaria Airport kicks off a series of events that would lead to two fully loaded Boeing 747s colliding on the runway at Los Rodeos Airport over 100 kilometers away, resulting in the deaths of 583 people in the worst accident in aviation history.
  • TV Documentary: The series is focused on recounting the events of a disaster, presenting the findings of the investigation, going over the aftermath, and reflecting on the disaster's significance in history.
  • Exact Time to Failure: An iconic feature of the series, every significant event in the timeline is listed with an exact time to the moment of disaster.
  • Failsafe Failure: Many disasters featured occurred as failsafes in place were overwhelmed, out-of-order, or unwittingly disabled through human error.
    • In Paris Train Crash/Runaway Train, the train driver releases air from all the brakes of his train to overcome a mis-diagnosed clog in the air-brake system. Instead, he unwittingly sabotages an automated failsafe that locks the air brakes of his train if air-pressure in the brake system is dangerously low. This leads to a literal train wreck when he is unable to stop his train from crashing into a stationary one further up the line.
  • For Want of a Nail: Often a major final or initiating factor in the disaster.
    • Comet Air Crash/Crash of the Comet: The decision to secure a window with rivets instead of glue (as originally designed) left a microscopic manufacturing defect in the fuselage of BOAC Flight 781. Over time, the defect grew into a fatigue crack. The fatigue crack then failed, leading to Explosive Decompression, causing the crash of the Comet. The crash crippled the promised rise of British Aviation company de Havilland, allowing two little known companies, Boeing and McDonnell Douglas to leave them in the dust forever. Also, the subsequent inquiry into the crash resulted in unprecedented investigative techniques (such as wreckage reassembly) being developed; techniques that form the cornerstone of accident investigations to this day.
    • Paris Train Crash/Runaway Train: While trying to reset the emergency brake cord, the train driver accidentally pulls shut a valve supplying air to his train's brakes. This leaves him unable to stop his train at the end of the line, resulting in the Gare de Lyon rail accident.
  • Heroic Bystander: Many episodes mention the heroics of average people stepping up to save others. In some, they even manage to bring the individual(s) in question for an interview.
    • Collision on the Runway: Jack Ridout, a passenger on Pan Am Flight 1736, barely survives the horrific side-on collision with KLM Flight 4805. Although injured and suffering burn wounds, he opens one of the aircraft's exits and braves the burning plane to help several passengers exit the aircraft. He is credited with saving 12 lives. In context, he and the 12 are among the 61 people that escaped the Pan Am alive.
    • Zeebrugge Ferry Disaster/Capsized in the North Sea: In the wake of the capsizing of the Herald of Free Enterprise, stories of heroism include a man acting as a human bridge to allow others to escape, and a truck driver saving a 5 year old girl, who lost the rest of her family in the capsize.
    • Crash Landing at Sioux City: Jerry Schemmel, who survived the crash landing with minor injuries, quickly reached the exit of the plane. Before he could get out, he heard the cries of a baby amid the flames. Without a second thought, he darted back into the wreckage and carried the child to safety.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: The series often features individuals that went above and beyond, giving their lives to save others from the disaster.
    • Paris Train Crash/Runaway Train: André Tanguy, the driver of the stationary train in the path of the unstoppable runaway one, frantically warned his passengers over the intercom to evacuate. Staring death in the face, he stayed at his post repeating the warning until the two trains collided head-on, killing him instantly. He is named the hero of the accident, credited with saving dozens of lives.
  • Stock Footage: Ubiquitous in the show, mostly from news broadcasts and other media significant to the disaster and subsequent investigation.