But for one family, the overriding grief was even more acute. For one of those killed- ten-year-old Eryl Mai Jones- had not only predicted the catastrophe, but had warned her mother of it, too. In the days leading up to the atrocity, Eryl had told her mother she was ‘not afraid to die’. ‘I shall be with Peter and June,’ she added. Eryl’s busy mother offered her imaginative daughter a lollipop and thought no more about it. Then, on October 20, the day before the disaster, Eryl said to her mother: ‘Let me tell you about my dream last night. I dreamt I went to school and there was no school there. Something black had come down all over it!’ The next day, Eryl’s horrific premonition came to pass and she was killed alongside schoolfriends Peter and June. They were buried side-by-side in a mass grave, just as the youngster had predicted. You can only guess at the torment Eryl’s mother must have suffered- perhaps berating herself for not keeping her child off school or warning everyone in the village.
Tales like this, of horrific events ‘seen’ in dreams, litter history. And now a comprehensive new book by medical doctor Larry Dossey- who has himself experienced premonitory dreams- collates some of the most extraordinary examples.
September 11th: The terrorist atrocities of September 11, 2001 were preceded by a slew of premonitions. A week before the attack, one North Carolina mother dreamt about spinning into blackness and heard a man’s voice repeating ’2,830, 2,830′ and a name she couldn’t make out. ‘It sounded like Rooks or Horooks,’ she said. Disturbed by the dream, the woman cancelled tickets the family had to fly to Disneyland on September 11, despite protestations from her husband that she was over-reacting. When news emerged on September 11 of the planes flying into New York’s Twin Towers – with another hitting the Pentagon and a fourth crashing into a field in Pennsylvania- the woman’s caution was vindicated. Most bizarrely, 2,830 – the number repeated over and over in her dream- was the confirmed tally of deaths at that time. And the name- ‘Rooks or Horooks?’- was that of Michael Horrocks, first officer of United Airlines flight 175, which crashed into the South Tower.
Of course, her vision was not specific enough for her to have done anything to avert the tragedy, but it was nonetheless disturbing- as was the experience of another woman holidaying in Washington DC two weeks before the atrocity. She was dozing in a car as her husband drove. But when she opened her eyes, she had a vision of the Pentagon with huge billows of thick black smoke pouring from it. She screamed, slammed her hands on the dashboard and became so hysterical that she hyperventilated. The woman had had visions all her life, but was traumatized by this one. Two weeks later, American Airlines flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon, killing 184 people, and causing clouds of thick black smoke, exactly as she had dreamt it.
In an even more chilling example, World Trade Centre employee Lawrence Boisseau had a dream in September that the towers were crashing down around him. A few days later, his wife dreamt the streets of Manhattan were littered with debris. The images were not specific enough to prevent Boisseau from going to work on September 11- and he perished there. But not before helping to rescue several children stuck in a care centre on the ground floor.
Sometimes, premonitions allow the person to pinpoint a specific time and place, leaving the dreamer enough time to alter the course of the disaster. In one such instance, Dossey recounts the tale of a mother living in Washington State who awoke at 2.30am from a nightmare. She had dreamt that a large chandelier that hung above her baby’s crib had fallen and crushed him. In the dream, a violent storm was raging and the time on the clock read 4.35 am. Alarmed, the woman woke up, went into the next room and took the baby back to her bed. Two hours later, the couple were woken by a loud crash. They dashed into their child’s room to find the crib demolished by the chandelier, which had fallen directly onto it. In a further twist, a storm was raging- and the time on the clock read 4.35 am.
Not all of those who dream of future events manage to interpret them correctly. Indeed, one of the common features of premonitions is that they are often fragmentary and vague. But Dossey believes we all have the ability to predict the future and points to studies by Dean Radin, a Californian researcher. Radin sat subjects in front of a blank computer screen and told them an image would appear in five seconds. Remarkably, before the image appeared, the subjects would become more agitated if the image was of something grisly or upsetting than if it was of something pleasant. It seems the subjects could sense what they were about to be confronted with. This is supported by data from train and plane accidents. One famous study from the Fifties found that trains involved in accidents often had fewer passengers than the same service the week before.
The theory is that commuters have some sense of an approaching accident and alter their travel plans. When the Titanic made her first- and last- voyage in 1912, many passengers had a sense of foreboding. J. P. Morgan, one of the richest men in the world, cancelled his passage at the last minute because of a hunch. Interestingly, the vacancy rate on all four flights that crashed on September 11, 2001, was high. On the Boeing 757 that crashed into the Pentagon, only 64 of 289 seats were taken. Meanwhile, the planes that crashed into the World Trade Centre’s North and South Towers were 74 and 81 per cent empty. Indeed, the occupancy rate of all four doomed planes that day was a mere 21 per cent- despite being commuter services.
Dossey’s explanation for humans’ ability to predict the future is rooted in evolution. He says it makes sense that we would develop our ability to see impending dangers and take appropriate measures. ‘From the standpoint of evolutionary biology, the ability to bypass the physical senses is the sort of ability that an intelligent, survival-oriented organism might sooner or later develop.’ Furthermore, he believes we are more likely to have premonitions about those to whom we are emotionally attached. Through history, neurologists have proved a telepathic connection between some particularly close individuals, such as twins. One of the most common forms of premonition is forewarning of illness in a loved one.
But this sixth sense is not confined to humans. There are countless examples of apparent premonitions among animals. Just before the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004, flamingoes on India’s southern coast fled, monkeys at Sri Lanka’s Yala National Park stopped accepting bananas from tourists and a elephants began to trumpet. In one tale recounted by Dossey, a woman was driving her car with her cat on the back seat. The cat became increasingly agitated, before jumping into the front and biting the woman, forcing her to stop. At just that moment, a large tree crashed onto the road, just a few yards ahead of the woman. If she had continued driving, she would have been killed.
Coincidence? Or proof of something more mysterious at work? Dossey, and others like him, believe it is the latter. What’s more, he thinks our only hope of utilizing the power of prediction effectively is to act immediately and not let embarrassment get in the way. He cautions: ‘If premonitions are to aid survival, we cannot afford the luxury of not thinking about them.”