Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Hyatt Regency Skywalk Collapse 1981; The Begining of Urban Heavy Rescue

Thirty Year Anniversary 1981-2011

The Hyatt Regency Walkway Collapse July 1981
On July 17, 1981 a suspended walkway collapsed in The Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri, killing 114 people and injuring 216 others during a tea dance. At the time, it was the deadliest structural collapse in U.S. history. This event and a subsequent series of other major incidents in the early and mid 1980's began the formulative efforts towards defining the emerging field of Urban Heavy Rescue (UHR) that would transition into Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) in the late 1980's and early 1990's.

Another significant incident occurring in 1981 included the Harbor Cay Condominium Collapse (Cocoa Beach, Florida, 1981). This building was under construction at the time of collapse. Heavy floor and wall construction consisted of precast reinforced concrete slabs and cast-in-place concrete components. All five floors and the roof of the condominium collapsed in a pancake configuration, trapping a large number of construction workers.

Eleven were killed and 23 injured. The incident involved more than 60 hours of continuous rescue operations and resources from 5 county fire districts; 16 municipal fire departments; and a response of Civil Defense, military, and private sector technical specialists.

Today marks the thirty year anniverary of the Kansas City event and the lessons learned that continue to be applied towards collapse rescue, urban search and rescue and techncial rescue operations, protocals, techniques, methodologies and preparedness.

On July 17, 1981, approximately 1,600 people gathered in the atrium to participate in and watch a dance competition. Dozens stood on the walkways. At 7:05 PM, the second-level walkway held approximately 40 people with more on the third and an additional 16 to 20 on the fourth level who watched the activities of crowd in the lobby below. The fourth floor bridge was suspended directly over the second floor bridge, with the third floor walkway offset several feet from the others.

Construction difficulties resulted in a subtle but flawed design change that doubled the load on the connection between the fourth floor walkway support beams and the tie rods carrying the weight of both walkways. This new design was barely adequate to support the dead load weight of the structure itself, much less the added weight of the spectators.

The connection failed and the fourth floor walkway collapsed onto the second floor and both walkways then fell to the lobby floor below, resulting in 111 immediate deaths and 216 injuries. Three additional victims died after being evacuated to hospitals making the total number of deaths 114 people.

Direct Link to the 1982 NIST Report, HERE

The hotel had only been in operation for approximately one year at the time of the walkways collapse, and the ensuing investigation of the accident revealed some unsettling facts:

  • During January and February, 1979, the design of the hanger rod connections was changed in a series of events and disputed communications between the fabricator (Havens Steel Company) and the engineering design team (G.C.E. International, Inc., a professional engineering firm). The fabricator changed the design from a one-rod to a two-rod system to simplify the assembly task, doubling the load on the connector, which ultimately resulted in the walkways collapse.
  • The fabricator, in sworn testimony before the administrative judicial hearings after the accident, claimed that his company (Havens) telephoned the engineering firm (G.C.E.) for change approval. G.C.E. denied ever receiving such a call from Havens.
  • On October 14, 1979 (more than one year before the walkways collapsed), while the hotel was still under construction, more than 2700 square feet of the atrium roof collapsed because one of the roof connections at the north end of the atrium failed.
  • In testimony, G.C.E. stated that on three separate occasions they requested on-site project representation during the construction phase; however, these requests were not acted on by the owner (Crown Center Redevelopment Corporation), due to additional costs of providing on-site inspection.
  • Even as originally designed, the walkways were barely capable of holding up the expected load, and would have failed to meet the requirements of the Kansas City Building Code.
  • The Kansas City Star has a dedicated memorial website established with images, video and information; HERE
  • A look back at the Hyatt Regency Skywalk Disaster, HERE
  • Kansas City (MO) Fire Department, HERE
  • Photos from Hyatt Regency Skywalk collapse aftermath, HERE
The high number of dead and injured, the location of the collapse, the size of the collapsed material, and the ineffectiveness of the typical emergency service tools created severe rescue limitations.
The incident required a large number of medical personnel working alongside the rescuers.

Twenty-nine live victims were removed from under the debris during the rescue operations. Heavy rigging and construction specialists and heavy equipment were needed to remove the debris during the rescue operations. large scale rescue operation soon unfolded. Heroes of the evening ranged from a husband who pulled his wife's trapped foot from the wreckage, to a surgeon who performed an emergency amputation to save a trapped and bleeding victim, to construction crew workers who toiled throughout the night clearing the debris.

A local crane company arrived at the scene to remove sections of collapsed walkway. Dispatchers called in emergency vehicles from throughout the city. Outlying cities such as Belton and Lee's Summit offered help within minutes of the dispatch calls. Victims were rushed to four nearby hospitals. Donors poured into the Greater Kansas City Community Blood Center. Local talk-show host Walt Bodine broadcast throughout the night. As late as midnight, excavators were trying to reach over a dozen people still trapped under the debris. At 5 a.m., workers uncovered the final 31 bodies from the last slab of concrete to be removed.

The rescue operation lasted well into the next morning and was carried out by a veritable army of emergency personnel, including 34 fire trucks, and paramedics and doctors from five area hospitals.

Dr. Joseph Waeckerle directed the rescue effort setting up a makeshift morgue in the ruined lobby and turning the hotel's taxi ring into a triage center, helping to organize the wounded by highest need for medical care. Those who could walk were instructed to leave the hotel to simplify the rescue effort, the fatally injured were told they were going to die and given morphine.

Workmen from a local construction company were also hired by the city fire department, bringing with them cranes, bulldozers, jackhammers and concrete-cutting power saws.

The biggest challenge to the rescue operation came when falling debris severed the hotel's water pipes, flooding the lobby and putting trapped survivors at great risk of drowning. As the pipes were connected to water tanks, as opposed to a public source, the flow could not be shut off.

Eventually, Kansas City's fire chief realized that the hotel's front doors were trapping the water in the lobby. On his orders, a bulldozer was sent in to rip out the doors, which allowed the water to pour out of the lobby and thus eliminated the danger to survivors.

For the Full Article, diagrams, videos and photos- Go to HERE

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1 comment:

  1. Andrew Lloyd Weber's The Phantom of the Opera (1986 musical)
    utilizes a travelator for the number 'The Phantom of the Opera' (Act
    one, scene six), to give the illusion the Phantom and Christine are
    traveling the catacombs below the Paris Opera House a great distance to
    the Phantom's lair on the subterranean lake.


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