July 1996 – 20 years ago

17 July 1996 – TWA Flight 800 explodes killing 230

July 1996
The CIA’s animated depiction of how TWA Flight 800 broke apart. When the bottom of the aircraft blew out from the exploding fuel tank, cracks spread around the fuselage and severed the entire front section of the plane.

Trans World Airlines Flight 800 exploded and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean near East Moriches, New York 12 minutes after takeoff from John F. Kennedy International Airport. The incident was initially thought to be an act of terrorism, but the FBI eventually announced that no evidence had been found of a criminal act and closed its active investigation.

TWA Flight 800 conspiracy theories exist, the most prevalent being that a missile strike from a terrorist or an accidental launch from a U.S. Navy vessel caused the crash, and is the subject of a government coverup. Witness accounts lend support to the most prevalent theory.




1 July 1996 – Euthanasia legalised in Northern Territory

Dr Philip Nitschke - July 1996
Dr Philip Nitschke

Euthanasia was legalised in Australia’s Northern Territory, by the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995. It passed by a vote of 15 to 10 and euthanasia was legalised in July 1996 but a repeal bill was brought before the Northern Territory Parliament in August 1996, but was defeated by 14 votes to 11. However, soon after, the law was voided by the Euthanasia Laws Act 1997, an Australian statute of the Commonwealth Parliament that amended the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978, the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Act 1988 and the Norfolk Island Act 1979 to remove the power of each of those territories to legalise euthanasia, and specifically to repeal the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995 (NT).

The powers of the Northern Territory, the Australian Capital Territory and the Norfolk Island legislatures, unlike those of the State legislatures, are not guaranteed by the Australian constitution and may be amended or overruled by the Commonwealth. However, before the Commonwealth government made this amendment, three people had already died through physician assisted suicide under the legislation, aided by Dr Philip Nitschke. The first person was a carpenter, Bob Dent, who died on 22 September 1996.



5 July 1996 – Hello Dolly the sheep

July 1996
A close-up of Dolly in her stuffed form – Toni Barros (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Dolly was a sheep and the first mammal cloned from an adult somatic cell. She was cloned by Sir Ian Wilmut, Keith Campbell and colleagues at the Roslin Institute, part of the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and the biotechnology company PPL Therapeutics, based near Edinburgh. She died from a progressive lung disease 5 months before her seventh birthday.

The cell used as the donor for the cloning of Dolly was taken from a mammary gland, and the production of a healthy clone therefore proved that a cell taken from a specific part of the body could recreate a whole individual. On Dolly’s name, Wilmut stated “Dolly is derived from a mammary gland cell and we couldn’t think of a more impressive pair of glands than Dolly Parton’s”.



15 July 1996 – Belgian Air Force Hercules brought down by birds

July 1996
A similar aircraft to that lost in the Hercules Disaster – Alan Wilson – Lockheed C-130H Hercules (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Four Belgian crew members and 37 young military band members of the of the Royal Netherlands Army were killed when a Belgian Air Force Lockheed C-130 Hercules aircraft crashed at Eindhoven Airport.

As the aircraft was coming into land at Eindhoven, it encountered a flock of birds; it overshot, but lost power and crashed into the ground; a fire broke out, which destroyed the cockpit and forward fuselage.

The Eindhoven airfield fire service were not initially aware that the transport aircraft was carrying passengers and it was 30 minutes before they realised the truth, by which time most of them had died in the post-crash fire. Following the accident, the Royal Netherlands Air Force officer who commanded the Eindhoven airbase, the officer responsible for air traffic and the officer commanding the fire department were relieved of their duties.

The cause of the accident was officially reported as the ingestion of birds into the two left engines, which caused the plane to go out of control during landing.



July 1996 – Atlanta Olympics and Centennial Park Bombing

July 1996The 1996 Olympic Games begin an emotional rollercoaster with the lighting of the cauldron by the late Muhammed Ali. Then we had the amazing Michael Johnson do the double that had never been done previously – the 200m and 400m men’s gold. There was also the “Gazelle” – Marie-Jose Perec’s 200m and 400m double.

Like all Games, there were many highlights but unfortunately, Atlanta 1996 was marred by a pipe bomb in Centennial Olympic Park on 27 July 1996.

Security guard Richard Jewell discovered the pipe bomb and immediately notified law enforcement and helped evacuate as many people as possible from the area before it exploded. Although Jewell’s quick actions are credited for saving many lives, the bombing killed spectator Alice Hawthorne, wounded 111 others, and caused the death of Melih Uzunyol by heart attack.

Jewell was later considered a suspect in the bombing but was never charged, and he was exonerated in October 1996. In 2003, Eric Robert Rudolph was charged with and confessed to this bombing as well as the bombings of several abortion clinics and gay bars. He stated “the purpose of the attack on July 27th was to confound, anger and embarrass the Washington government in the eyes of the world for its abominable sanctioning of abortion on demand.”He was sentenced to a life sentence at ADX Florence prison in Florence, Colorado.

In his closing speech IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch he denounced the Centennial Olympic Park bombing stating that terrorism cannot stop the Olympic spirit. Samaranch asked for a moment of silence to remember the victims of the bombing, as well as the 11 Israeli athletes of the Munich massacre during the 1972 Summer Olympics. He said that those tragedies will never be forgotten and said:

No act of terrorism has ever destroyed the Olympic movement and none ever will. More than ever we are fully committed to building a better, more peaceful world in which forms of terrorism are eradicated.



27 July 1996 – Ivan Milat found guilty

July 1996The bodies of seven backpackers were discovered in the Belanglo State Forest near Berrima. The first two, British backpackers Caroline Clarke and Joanne Walters, were discovered in September 1992. They were reported missing since April of that year. Walters had been stabbed 35 times and Clarke had been shot ten times in the head.

Two more bodies were found in the forest in October 1993. They were that of James Gibson and Deborah Everist. They had been missing since 1989. Three more were discovered a month later – Germans Simone Schimidl, Anja Habschied and Gabor Neugebauer.

The initial list of suspects was extensive but was gradually shortened to a list of 32 which included Ivan Milat.

On 13 November, police received a call from Paul Onions in Britain. Onions had been backpacking in Australia several years before and had accepted a ride south out of Sydney from a man known only as “Bill” on 25 January 1990. South of the town of Mittagong, Bill pulled out some ropes attempting to tie the British tourist by the hands and then pulled a gun on Onions, at which point he managed to escape while Bill shot at him.

Onions flagged down Joanne Berry, a passing motorist, and reported the assault to local police. Onions’ statement was backed up by Berry, who also contacted the investigation team, along with the girlfriend of a man who worked with Ivan Milat, who thought he should be questioned over the case.

On 13 April 1994, Detective Gordon found the note regarding Paul Onions’ call to the hotline five months earlier. Superintendent Clive Small immediately called for the original report from Bowral police but it was missing from their files. Fortunately, Constable Janet Nicholson had taken a full report in her notebook, which provided more details than the original statement. Police confirmed Richard Milat (Ivan’s brother) had been working on the day of the attack, but Ivan Milat had not. Onions flew to Australia and positively identified Ivan Milat as the man who had picked him up and attempted to tie up and possibly murder him.

Ivan Milat had already served prison time and in 1971 he had been charged with abduction and rape thouge the charges were later dropped. He was arrested on 22 May 1994. The search of Ivan Milat’s home revealed a cache of weapons, including parts of a .22 calibre rifle that matched the type used in the murders, plus clothing, camping equipment and cameras belonging to several of his victims.

In March 1996, the trial opened and lasted fifteen weeks. His defence argued that, in spite of the evidence, there was no proof Ivan Milat was guilty and attempted to shift the blame to other members of his family, particularly Richard.

On 27 July 1996, a jury found Ivan Milat guilty of the murders. He was also convicted of the attempted murder, false imprisonment and robbery of Paul Onions, for which he received six years’ jail each. For the murders of Caroline Clarke, Joanne Walters, Simone Schmidl, Anja Habschied, Gabor Neugebauer, James Gibson and Deborah Everist, Milat was given a life sentence on each count, with all sentences running consecutively and without the possibility of parole.

Police maintain that Milat may have been involved in many more murders than the seven for which he was convicted. In 2001, Milat was ordered to give evidence at an inquest into the disappearances of three other female backpackers, but no case has been brought against him, due to lack of evidence. Similar inquiries were launched in 2003, in relation to the disappearance of two nurses and again in 2005, relating to the disappearance of hitchhiker Anette Briffa, but no charges have resulted.

On 18 July 2005, Milat’s former lawyer, John Marsden, who had been fired before the murder trial, made a deathbed statement in which he claimed that Milat had been assisted by his sister in the killings of the two British backpackers.

In 2012, Ivan Milat’s great-nephew Matthew Milat and his friend Cohen Klein (both aged 19 at the time of their sentencing) were sentenced to 43 years and 32 years in prison respectively, for murdering David Auchterlonie on his 17th birthday with an axe at the Belanglo State Forest in 2010. Matthew Milat struck Auchterlonie with the double-headed axe as Klein recorded the attack with a mobile phone. This was the same forest where Ivan Milat had buried his victims.



Other events in July 1996

July 1996
Martina Hingis at the Roland Garros 2016 (CC BY-SA 2.0)

4 July 1996 – The free email service, Hotmail, was launched by Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith. It was acquired by Microsoft for about $400 million in 1997. The last version of Hotmail was released in 2011 with Outlook.com taking its place in 2013.

8 July 1996 – Martina Hingis wins Wimbledon women’s singles. She was the youngest person ever to do so. Hingis was 15 years and 282 days old.

12 July 1996 – Jonathan Melvoin, touring keyboardist for the Smashing Pumpkins died as a result of a heroin overdose. Apart from playing with other punk bands, Melvoin was also a member of The Family, a Prince side project. His sisters were twins Susannah and Wendy Melvoin who were also members of The Family as well as The Revolution. Their father was Wrecking Crew musician Mike Melvoin.

24 July 1996 – The Dehiwala train bombing resulted in 64 civilian deaths and wounding 400 others. The attack was carried out by LTTE operatives placing suitcase bombs in four carriages on a commuter train. The simultaneous explosion of these bombs resulted in a large number of casualties. The technique of simultaneously exploding multiple bombs in several carriages was used for the first time in this attack.



July 1996 – Music, Movies, Books and TV

July 1996The Fugees continued owning the charts with Killiing Me Softly in July 1996, but right there with it was the Spice Girls debut Wannabe – the start of a phenomenon.

On the big screen, July 1996 had us watching Courage Under Fire with Denzel Washington, Meg Ryan, Lou Diamond Phillips, Matt Damon, Scott Glenn and Michael Moriarty. We also queued up for Eddie Murphy’s Nutty Professor re-make with Murphy himself playing six roles. But the biggest movie for July 1996 was Independence Day which turned out to be the highest grossing movie of 1996. A sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence, was released last week.

The Bestsellers for July 1996 was Patricia Cornwall’s Cause of Death and Runaway Jury by John Grisham.

Finally, on TV in July 1996 we saw the retirement of “Baby” John Burgess from the long running Wheel of Fortune.



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Steven Wright