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1979 (MCMLXXIX)was a common year starting on Monday of the Gregorian calendar, the 1979th year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the 979th year of the 2nd millennium, the 79th year of the 20th century, and the 10th and last year of the 1970s decade.
- January 1
- January 4 – The State of Ohio agrees to pay $675,000 to families of the dead and injured in the Kent State shootings.
- January 7 – The People's Army of Vietnam and Vietnamese-backed Cambodian insurgents announce the fall of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and the collapse of the Pol Pot regime. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge retreat west to an area along the Thai border, ending large-scale fighting in the Cambodian–Vietnamese War.
- January 8 – Whiddy Island Disaster: The French tanker Betelgeuse explodes at the Gulf Oil terminal at Bantry, Ireland; 50 are killed.
- January 9 – The Music for UNICEF Concert is held at the United Nations General Assembly to raise money for UNICEF and promote the Year of the Child. It is broadcast the following day in the United States and around the world. Hosted by the Bee Gees, other performers include Donna Summer, ABBA, Rod Stewart and Earth, Wind & Fire. A soundtrack album is later released.
- January 16 – Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi flees Iran with his family, relocating to Egypt after a year of turmoil.
- January 19 – Former U.S. Attorney General John N. Mitchell is released on parole after 19 months at a federal prison in Alabama.
- January 21 – The Pittsburgh Steelers stake their claim as the NFL team of the 1970s by beating the Dallas Cowboys 35-31 at Miami's Orange Bowl in Super Bowl XIII.
- January 25 – Pope John Paul II arrives in Mexico City for his first visit to Mexico, mainly for 1979's Latin American Episcopal Conference (CELAM) or Conference of Puebla.
- January 26 – The Dukes of Hazzard debuts on CBS.
- January 29 – Cleveland Elementary School shooting (San Diego): Brenda Ann Spencer opens fire at a school in San Diego, California, killing two faculty members and wounding eight students and a police officer. Her justification for the action, "I don't like Mondays", inspires the Boomtown Rats to make a song of the same name.
- February 1 – Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returns to Tehran, Iran after nearly 15 years of exile.
- February 2
- February 3 – Ayatollah Khomeini creates the Council of the Islamic Revolution.
- February 7
- February 10–11 – Iranian Revolution: The Iranian army withdraws to its barracks leaving power in the hands of Ayatollah Khomeini, ending the Pahlavi dynasty.
- February 12 – Prime Minister Hissène Habré starts the Battle of N'Djamena in an attempt to overthrow Chad's President Félix Malloum.
- February 13 – The Guardian Angels are formed in New York City as an unarmed organization of young crime fighters.
- February 13 – The intense February 13, 1979 windstorm strikes western Washington and sinks a 1.3 kilometres (0.81 mi) long section of the Hood Canal Bridge.
- February 14
- In Kabul, Muslim extremists kidnap the American ambassador to Afghanistan, Adolph Dubs, who is later killed during a gunfight between his kidnappers and police.
- Following her 1972 sex reassignment surgery, musician Wendy Carlos legally changes her name from Walter. She reveals this information in an interview in the May 1979 issue of Playboy magazine.
- February 15 – A suspected gas explosion in a Warsaw bank kills 49.
- February 17 – The People's Republic of China invades northern Vietnam, launching the Sino-Vietnamese War.
- February 18 – The Sahara Desert experiences snow for 30 minutes.
- February 20 – This Old House premieres on PBS.
- February 22 – Saint Lucia becomes independent from the United Kingdom.
- February 26
- A total solar eclipse, the last visible from the continental United States until 2017, arcs over northern coterminous USA and southeastern Canada ending in Greenland. A partial solar eclipse is visible over almost all of North America and Central America including the eastern half of AK and the western half of UK.
- The Superliner railcar enters revenue service with Amtrak.
- February 27 – The annual Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans is cancelled due to a strike called by the New Orleans Police Department.
- March 1
- March 4 – The U.S. Voyager 1 spaceprobe photos reveal Jupiter's rings.
- March 5 – Voyager 1 makes its closest approach to Jupiter at 277,000 kilometres (172,000 mi).
- March 7 – The largest Magnetar (Soft gamma repeater) event is recorded.
- March 8 – Philips demonstrates the compact disc publicly for the first time.
- March 13 – Maurice Bishop leads a successful coup in Grenada. His government will be crushed by American intervention in 1983.
- March 14 – In China, a Hawker Siddeley Trident crashes into a factory near Beijing, killing at least 200.
- March 16 – End of major hostilities in the Sino-Vietnamese War.
- March 17 – The Penmanshiel Tunnel in the U.K. collapses, killing two workers.
- March 18 – Ten miners die in a methane gas explosion at Golborne Colliery near Wigan, Greater Manchester, England.
- March 22 – The NHL votes to approve its merger with the WHA, effective in the fall.
- March 25 – The first fully functional Space Shuttle orbiter, Columbia, is delivered to the Kennedy Space Center, to be prepared for its first launch.
- March 26
- March 28
- March 29 – Sultan Yahya Petra of Kelantan, the 6th Yang di-Pertuan Agong (Head of State) of Malaysia, dies in office. He is replaced by Sultan Ahmad Shah of Pahang.
- March 30 – Airey Neave, World War II veteran and Conservative Northern Ireland spokesman, is killed, presumably by an Irish National Liberation Army bomb in the British House of Commons car park.
- March 31
- April 1
- Iran's government becomes an Islamic Republic by a 98% vote, overthrowing the Shah officially.
- The Pinwheel Network changes its name to Nickelodeon and begins airing on various Warner Cable systems beginning in Buffalo, New York, expanding its audience reach.
- April 1–18 – Police lock Andreas Mihavecz in a holding cell in Bregenz, Austria and forget about him, leaving him there without food or drink.
- April 2 – Sverdlovsk anthrax leak: A Soviet biowarfare laboratory at Sverdlovsk accidentally releases airborne anthrax spores, killing 66 plus an unknown amount of livestock. It is a violation of the Biological Weapons Convention of 1972.
- April 4 – Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto is executed by hanging for the murder of a political opponent.
- April 6 – Student protests break out in Nepal.
- April 7 – In Japan, Yoshiyuki Tomino directed Mobile Suit Gundam, the first series of the metaseries of the same name.
- April 10 – A tornado hits Wichita Falls, Texas, killing 42 people (the most notable of 26 tornadoes that day).
- April 11 – Uganda–Tanzania War: Fall of Kampala: Tanzanian troops take Kampala, the capital of Uganda; Idi Amin flees.
- April 13 – The La Soufrière volcano erupts in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
- April 15 – 1979 Montenegro earthquake: A major earthquake M 7.0 strikes Montenegro (then part of Yugoslavia) and parts of Albania, causing extensive damage to coastal areas and taking 136 lives; the old town of Budva is devastated.
- April 17 – Schoolchildren in the Central African Republic are arrested (and around 100 killed) for protesting against compulsory school uniforms. An African judicial commission later determines that Emperor Jean-Bédel Bokassa "almost certainly" took part in the massacre.
- April 22 – The Albert Einstein Memorial is unveiled at The National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C.
- April 23 – Fighting breaks out in London between the Anti-Nazi League and the Metropolitan Police's Special Patrol Group; protester Blair Peach receives fatal injuries during the incident, now officially attributed to the SPG.
- August 3 – Dictator Francisco Macías Nguema of Equatorial Guinea is overthrown in a bloody coup d'état led by Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.
- August 4 – Opening game of the played between Frankfurter Löwen and Düsseldorf Panther, first-ever league game of in Germany.
- August 5 – The Polisario Front signs a peace treaty with Mauritania. Mauritania withdraws from the Western Sahara territory it had occupied, and cedes it to the SADR.
- August 8 – Two American commercial divers, Richard Walker and Victor Guiel, die of hypothermia after their diving bell becomes stranded at a depth of over 160 metres (520 ft) in the East Shetland Basin. The legal repercussions of the accident will lead to important safety changes in the diving industry.
- August 9 – Raymond Washington, co-founder of the Crips, today one of the largest, most notorious gangs in the United States, is killed in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles; the killers have not yet been identified.
- August 10 – Michael Jackson releases his breakthrough album Off the Wall. It sells 7 million copies in the United States alone, making it a 7× platinum album.
- August 11
- August 14 – A freak storm during the Fastnet Race results in the deaths of 15 sailors.
- August 17 – The controversial religious satirical film Monty Python's Life of Brian, premieres in the United States.
- August 27 – Lord Mountbatten of Burma and two others are killed immediately in a bombing by Provisional Irish Republican Army assassins. Mountbatten was a British admiral, statesman and an uncle of The Duke of Edinburgh. On the same day, the Warrenpoint ambush occurs, killing 18 British soldiers. Doreen Knatchbull, Baroness Brabourne would die in a hospital the following day (August 28) from her injuries in the Mountbatten bombing.
- August 29 – A national referendum is held in which Somali voters approve a new liberal constitution, promulgated by President Siad Barre to placate the United States.
- October 1 – Nigeria terminates military rule, and the Second Nigerian Republic is established.
- October 1–7 – Pope John Paul II visits the United States, starting in Boston.
- October 1 – The MTR, the rapid transit railway system in Hong Kong, opens.
- October 2 – Pope John Paul II arrives in New York City for his first papal tour where he addresses the U.N. General Assembly against all forms of concentration camps and torture.
- October 6 – Federal Reserve System changes from an interest rate target policy to a money supply target policy.
- October 7 – Pope John Paul II ends his first U.S. papal visit in Washington, D.C. with his first ever visit to the White House.
- October 9 – Peter Brock wins the Bathurst 1000 by a record six laps, with a lap record on the last lap.
- October 12
- October 14 – National March for gay rights takes place in Washington, D.C., involving tens of thousands of people.
- October 15 – Black Monday events, in which members of a political group sack a newspaper office, unfold in Malta.
- October 16 – A tsunami in Nice, France kills 23 people.
- October 19 – 13 U.S. Marines die in a fire at Camp Fuji, Japan as a result of Typhoon Tip.
- October 20 – The first McDonald's in Singapore opens at Liat Towers in Orchard Road.
- October 26 – Park Chung-hee, the President of South Korea, is assassinated by KCIA director Kim Jae-gyu.
- October 27 – Saint Vincent and the Grenadines gains independence from the UK.
- October 31 – Western Airlines Flight 2605 crashes upon landing at Mexico City International Airport, killing 72 occupants plus one on the ground; 16 people on board survive.
- November 1
- November 2
- French police shoot gangster Jacques Mesrine in Paris.
- Assata Shakur (née Joanne Chesimard), a former member of the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army, escapes from a New York prison to Cuba, where she remains under political asylum.
- November 3 – In Greensboro, North Carolina, five members of the Communist Workers Party are shot to death and seven are wounded by a group of Klansmen and neo-Nazis, during a "Death to the Klan" rally.
- November 4 – Iran hostage crisis begins: 500 Iranian radicals, mostly students, invade the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and take 90 hostages (53 of whom are American). They demand that the United States send the former Shah of Iran back to stand trial.
- November 5
- November 6 – At Montevideo, Uruguay, the International Olympic Committee adopts a resolution, whereby Taiwan Olympic and sports teams will participate with the name Chinese Taipei in future Olympic Games and international sports tournaments and championships.
- November 7 – U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy announces that he will challenge President Jimmy Carter for the 1980 Democratic presidential nomination.
- November 9
- The Carl Bridgewater murder trial ends in England with all four men found guilty. James Robinson, 45, and 25-year-old Vincent Hickey are sentenced to life imprisonment with a recommended 25-year minimum for murder. 18-year-old Michael Hickey is also found guilty of murder and sentenced to indefinite detention. Patrick Molloy, 53, is found guilty on a lesser charge of manslaughter and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
- Nuclear false alarm: the NORAD computers and the Alternate National Military Command Center in Fort Ritchie, Maryland, detect an apparent massive Soviet nuclear strike. After reviewing the raw data from satellites and checking the early-warning radars, the alert is cancelled.
- November 10 – 1979 Mississauga train derailment: A 106-car Canadian Pacific freight train carrying explosive and poisonous chemicals from Windsor, Ontario, Canada derails in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada just west of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, causing a massive explosion and the largest peacetime evacuation in Canadian history and one of the largest in North American history.
- November 12
- November 14 – Iran hostage crisis: U.S. President Jimmy Carter issues Executive Order 12170, freezing all Iranian assets in the United States and U.S. banks in response to the hostage crisis.
- November 15 – British art historian and former Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures Anthony Blunt's role as the "fourth man" of the 'Cambridge Five' double agents for the Soviet NKVD during World War II is revealed by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom; she gives further details on November 21.
- November 16 – Bucharest Metro Line One is opened, in Bucharest, Romania (from Timpuri Noi to Semanatoarea stations, 8.63 kilometres (5.36 mi)).
- November 17 – Iran hostage crisis: Iranian leader Ruhollah Khomeini orders the release of 13 female and African American hostages being held at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
- November 20 – Grand Mosque seizure: A group of 200 Juhayman al-Otaybi militants occupy Mecca's Masjid al-Haram, the holiest place in Islam. They are driven out by French commandos (allowed into the city under these special circumstances despite their being non-Muslims) after bloody fighting that leaves 250 people dead and 600 wounded.
- November 21 – After false radio reports from the Ayatollah Khomeini that the Americans had occupied the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the United States Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan is attacked by a mob and set afire, killing 4, and disturbing Pakistan–United States relations.
- November 23 – In Dublin, Ireland, Provisional Irish Republican Army member Thomas McMahon is sentenced to life in prison for the assassination of Lord Mountbatten of Burma.
- November 25 – Last cargo of phosphate shipped from Banaba Island.
- November 28 – Air New Zealand Flight 901: an Air New Zealand DC-10 crashes into Mount Erebus in Antarctica on a sightseeing trip, killing all 257 people on board.
- November 30 – The Wall, a rock opera and concept album by Pink Floyd, is first released.