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13 reasons to fear Friday 13th

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Olsen twins

Fear of Friday the 13th is so strong that there's even a name for it: friggatriskaidekaphobia.

This linguistic mouthful sounds impressive, but is there anything to the phobia, or is it all just superstitious hooey?

Although a fear of the number 13 is widespread around the world and very old -- dating back at least to the ancient Persians -- friggatriskaidekaphobia seems to have come into vogue sometime in the 19th century. There is no written mention of it until a book written in 1869 by one Henry Sutherland Edwards.

Various theories have been put forward as to why we dread this day. First, 13 is unlucky for a myriad of reasons: Judas was the 13th apostle, 13 people sat at the Last Supper, 12 is considered the number of completion therefore 13 is an aberration, and so on. And Friday has been thought unlucky since at least Chaucer's seminal Canterbury Tales, possibly because Jesus was crucified on a Friday.

Put the two together and you get a big phobia about Friday the 13th. However, research suggests that there are no more accidents, deaths or other unpleasant incidents on this day than normal. But the fear persists in the public: some figures estimate some €550m is lost in business each time the 13th falls on a Friday, because of absenteeism and people avoiding travel.

And there have been some notable tragedies and disasters on this notorious date. This is our Top 13 for Friday the 13th:

1 On June 13, 1952 a Swedish military plane, with eight people on board, disappeared over the Baltic Sea.

One of two Catalina rescue planes searching for the missing DC-3 was attacked by USSR forces, giving the whole episode its name: "The Catalina incident." Almost 40 years later, the BBC reported that Soviet authorities had admitted that they had also shot down the Swedish plane.

2 The year before, on July 13, 1951, a massive flood covered two million acres in the US state of Kansas, killing 24 people and causing an estimated $760m worth of damages.

3 The Tube in London suffered a Friday the 13th scare in August of 2010 when an engineering train on the Northern Line became uncoupled and was out of control for, appropriately enough, 13 minutes.

4 Here's an oldie but a goodie: on October 13, 1307, King Philip IV of France laid waste to the Knights Templar, the famous warrior-monks of Da Vinci Code fame.

Philip claimed that they were heretics, though in reality he was probably afraid and envious of their power and wealth. That day, his soldiers arrested and imprisoned several thousand men on trumped-up charges. Hundreds were tortured to extract confessions, and over a hundred were killed.

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5 On November 13, 1970, a gigantic storm killed an estimated 300,000 people in the huge city of Chittagong, south-east Bangladesh, and created floods that laid waste to the Ganges delta, killing as many as one million people.

6 In 1989, on October 13, Wall Street endured a Black Friday when the Dow Jones Industrial Average underwent the second largest drop in history up to that point. (Nowadays, obviously, these things are ten-a-penny.)

Basically, a major deal fell through and triggered a collapse in junk bonds. Chaos reigned among the Gordon Gekko wannabes.

7 On March 13, 1992, an earthquake hit the town of Erzincan in north-east Turkey. The death toll was inconclusive, but it's reckoned that some 2,000 people perished and a further 50,000 were left homeless.

8 On March 27, 1964, the largest recorded quake in North American history struck Prince William Sound on the coast of Alaska.

The tragedy killed 140 people and reverberations from the earthquake were felt around the world, with water reportedly shaking in wells in Africa.

9 A chartered plane carrying the Uruguayan rugby team crashed in the South American Andes on October 13, 1972.

Infamously, 16 survivors were forced to turn to cannibalism, staying alive for more than two months by eating dead passengers. The incident was made into a hit 1993 movie, Alive, starring Ethan Hawke.

10 In 2010, on August 13, an unnamed young boy -- aged 13 -- was struck by lightning while enjoying the airborne spectacle at the Lowestoft Seafront Air Festival in Suffolk, England. Even weirder, the St John Ambulance Team arrived on the scene at 1.13pm -- or 13:13 in the 24-hour clock.

11 Five German air-raid bombs hit Buckingham Palace on September 13, 1940, during the Blitz. The Palace Chapel was destroyed.

12 On July 31, 1987, an F4 tornado -- the second-strongest category as measured by climatologists -- tore through the Canadian city of Edmonton in the province of Alberta, killing 27 people with over 300 injured.

13 The Black Friday bushfires ravaged the south-eastern state of Victoria in Australia on January 13, 1939. Still considered one of the worst bushfires in history, they destroyed almost 20,000 km2 of land, several towns and over 1,500 homes, and took the lives of 71 people.


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