Top 10 Times Miscommunication Ended in Disaster

error written on notepads

Miscommunications happen in workplaces all over the world every single day. However, at times these miscommunications can be the culprits for some of the biggest office troubles, national disasters, global chaos and interstellar havoc. This is why it’s important for everyone to be aware of what they do, what they say and who they communicate with. 

There have been many instances where a company executive has lost their job because of a technical miscommunication. There have even been numerous incidents in our history that nearly resulted in worldwide annihilation. In other words, a minuscule miscommunication can have serious consequences. 

Let’s face it: we’re only human and we’re entitled to a few mistakes; that’s why they have erasers on the back of pencils. Unfortunately, our inherent blunders can lead to unforeseen events that can hurt a few or millions. 

Here are the top 10 times miscommunication ended in disaster, or at least nearly in disaster: 

1. Mars meteorology mission 

In 2010, it was discovered that a 1999 Mars meteorology mission was the victim of miscommunication. NASA’s Mars Climate Orbiter burned up in the Martian atmosphere on Nov. 10, 1999 because of scientists who failed to convert units from imperial to metric. Engineers concluded that the software calculated pounds of force as opposed to the metric unit of Newtons. 

2. Ignoring a message 

The famous Battle of Trenton during the American War of Independence was one of the most remembered battles in United States history. Although George Washington was victorious, it was actually due to a little bit of luck. A spy had supposedly handed Johann Rall, a General of the Hessian regiments, a note that consisted of information regarding the American army’s whereabouts. Rall put it in his pocket and ignored it, possibly giving the Americans a victory. 

3. 1854’s charge of the Light Brigade 

We should really read things thoroughly before making decisions. Lord Cardigan of the British Calvary probably wished he took this advice after misreading an order and instead of fighting a small enemy unit, he attacked against a much larger Russian army. The region of the battle is now identified as the "Valley of Death."  

4. Nikita Kruschev’s ’My vas pokhoronim’ 

Soviet Union leader Nikita Kruschev attended a reception at the Polish Embassy in Moscow. He spoke to Western ambassadors and said to them "My vas pokhoronim." Unfortunately, American reporters mistranslated what he stated into "we will bury you" rather than "We will dig you in." It led to greater tensions between the West and Soviet Russia because this was at the height of the Cold War, a time when the world was on the brink of destruction. 

5. A wrong turn for the archduke

On Jun. 28, 1914, a terrorist group attempted to firebomb the vehicle Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were in. It was a failed attempt on their lives, but it did hurt and kill a few nearby people. When the driver for Ferdinand made a wrong turn due to a miscommunication, one of the conspirators to kill Ferdinand was sitting on the road and was then able to shoot and kill the Archduke.

6. 2012 end of the world 

Do you remember a couple of years ago when many people thought the world was coming to an end because the Mayan calendar suggested it? The world was slated to end Dec. 21, 2012 because that’s when the Mayan calendar ended. However, this was a misunderstanding because this just signified the end of a regular year (think Dec. 31). 

7. Dead or alive: the media makes a blunder 

In 2006, there was a serious mining accident in West Virginia. Early reports suggested that 11 of the 12 men were alive, which generated much jubilation. Unfortunately, because of a miscommunication - apparently the one relaying the information wore a mask so it muffled his speech - 11 of the 12 men were actually dead.

8. The 1977 plane crash 

In 1977, two Boeing 747 airplanes crashed on the Los Rodeos Airport runway, which killed 583 people, because the fog was so thick neither plane could see each other. The tragedy was due to a miscommunication between the captain of the KLM plane and the air traffic control tower. The pilot believed he had clearance for takeoff. He did not.

9. Friendly fire in Afghanistan 

A military investigation concluded that an entirely avoidable miscommunication mistake was the result of a "friendly fire" accident in Afghanistan. Five American soldiers and one Afghanistan soldier were mistaken as the enemy and were struck by two laser-guided bombs from a B-1 bomber.

10. Three New Jersey schools on lockdown 

A single text message without any details led to three New Jersey schools to be swarmed by police officers and placed under lockdown. School officials say the student’s text message to a parent was incorrect because the smartphone wasn’t working properly. The miscommunication prompted the three-hour lockdown - the content of the text message was never revealed.