The Hyatt Regency Collapse of 1981 Part Three: The Aftermath
After all the victims had been cleared from the scene and taken to the hospital, after the press and onlookers had all cleared out and after the actual dust had settled and adrenaline had died down, the real investigation started. Yes, the “missing stiffeners” had originally and immediately been identified as the reason for the collapse. But what is that and more importantly, how could something like this have happened? Is there not a system of checks and balances in place to prevent such catastrophes? Well…there is now.
It's hard to determine where to start when explaining what went so cataclysmically wrong in this situation. I suppose the easiest answer would be to first explain the “missing stiffeners” that Gillum first said was the cause of the collapse, because honestly, the language isn’t very clear unless you look around a bit.
You will see from the image that what he is actually referring to are the box beams and the connections they encase. The original design called for one long steel support rod to go from ceiling to the bottom of the second-floor skywalk, running through each walkway and basically having reinforcing bolts to secure the position and weight load at the bottom of the box beam at each intersection of walkway and this rod. This was to be in multiple places along the sides of the skywalk. The idea was to make the skywalks appear to be floating in mid-air and visitors of the hotel would be given a grand visual experience when using these walkways to observe the large lavish lobby below. It was certainly intended to be used for events such as the Tea Dances.
Box beam construction diagrams
However, the finished design was different. In the finished design, the one that collapsed, the floating walkways were suspended and supported by two steel rods, set in multiple places. As shown in the image, they were parallel to each other and offset, and bolted to the box beam. Also, in this design, the top rod that supported the fourth-floor walkway was through only the top of the box beam and bolted on the top of the box beam. The rod that supported the second floor went only through the bottom of the box beam support and was only bolted to the bottom of the support. Again, it is very clear to see in the diagram.
Now, many would think this may not matter. After all, there’s still support rods and bolts and box beams and everything right? Well, this just isn’t the case. The first design had more properly accounted for the full and even distribution of the weight load upon all the rods supporting all of the walkway surfaces. It also had been more eye appealing. The second design merely took into consideration the basic function of these support rods and the easiest way to provide this function and then considered the ease of fabrication.
And that’s where we go next.
When the first design was sent for fabrication, the fabricator told the project people that this design was simply just a very unrealistic idea. Put simply, for the first design to work and the bolts to be threaded on in the proper place was to fabricate the rod completely threaded from end to end. This did not appeal to the fabricator, nor did it appeal to the project engineer or manager, as it would risk damage when the fourth-floor walkway was hoisted up and set at permanent height. Now, one could possibly make the argument that the fabricator was being helpful. One could possibly argue the fabricator was being lazy. One could say that fabricator may not have even had the machine capabilities at the time to produce a threaded rod of more than forty feet. Who knows? Bottom line ended up being that the fabricator said they were not able to get the fabrication done as is and suggestions for revisions to the design were made.
The original design called for six individual rods, three on each side, penetrating through both the second and fourth floor walkway, as the fourth-floor walkway was directly above and parallel to the second. These rods would be attached to the steel beams in the roof, then come through the ceiling and continue through the walkway and through the fourth-floor box beams, then through the second-floor box beams and through the second walkway. This would have completely supported and distributed the seventy-two tons of concrete that comprised these skywalks.
But the change to twelve rods, making each intersection at the skywalk a double rod intersection inside the box beams, was less than stable and sound engineering. This change catastrophically redistributed this massive load of weight to rods that didn’t have the capacity to endure such a test of endurance and strength. The load put on the fourth-floor box beams was actually doubled and when one beam connection failed, they all went bad. With the weight already disproportionally distributed and the added weight of the partygoers, the fourth-floor box beam snapped, weaking the strength of this crucial weight bearing connection. Once the fourth-floor skywalk box beam snapped and the walkway popped free, it dropped several feet. This caused an unmanageable strain on the box beams as now they were not only unable to hold the extra weight, let alone the original weight they had been tasked with. Under this strain the fourth-floor skywalk crashed to the second-floor skywalk which then snapped immediately under the enormous structural burden. Thus, sending the seventy-two tons of concrete and building materials crashing down upon the party below.
Now, that’s what happened as far as the cause of the collapse. But, how could such a mistake have been made?
Here’s where it gets sticky.
The fabricator claimed he got the new design approved by the engineer of record. The engineer of record, at first, claimed to not have approved any such design change. But the fabricator had the engineer’s red stamp on the design showing that he had seen in, looked it over, done any calculations and made any changes that were necessary, stamped it and sent it back for fabrication. And yes, like I said, the design did in fact have the approval stamp on it.
So…who’s to blame?
Well, like most tragedies of such an unintentional nature, the blame kind of goes to a few people. Also, like most tragedies, there is a single party that assumes all the blame. I know, it seems like the two can’t go together but they do.
First, let’s look at the party who actually got legally assigned blame. That would be Jack Gillum and his company, Gillum and Associates, the engineer of record. Fact is, while he had spoken to people about the altered design over the phone, he had not actually seen design schematics in person. He gave the final design approval over the phone having never laid eyes on the actual design itself, doing any recalculations or any manipulations. He took the word of the fabricator who frankly, no disrespect, was not an engineer. In doing that, he approved a design that was destined to fail and wreak havoc.
Gillum was found to be culpable of gross negligence, misconduct and unprofessional conduct in the practice of engineering. However, he was acquitted of all criminal charges filed against him. He and his company did receive sanctions from various organizations. Gillum and Associates lost their license to practice engineering in Missouri, where this happened, in Kansas and in Texas. They were also members of the American Society of Civil Engineers. Their membership was promptly revoked upon the findings of the investigation.
Several departments opened investigations when this happened. The local metropolitan newspaper, The Kansas City Star, hired architectural engineer Wayne G. Lischka to look into the collapse. He looked at everything involved with the entire project from start to finish. Lischka discovered the significant alteration to the original design.
At this same time, Havens Steel Co., the fabricator of the hanger support rods, requested that the box beams be tested at the labs at Lehigh University.
The Missouri Licensing Board along with the Attorney General and other Jackson County officials also opened investigations, which ended up taking years to complete. They, along with the National Bureau of Standards, found that structural overload resulting from design flaws was the cause of failure and that the skywalks “had only minimal capacity to resist their own weight”. Which basically means that they were barely hanging on as they were. You add people to them, plus dancing and music vibrations and you get the fatal overload and collapse.
Now, that’s Gillum’s responsibility. He had the final say on the design. That is true. However, I really do believe that there were others that knew this was a bad idea, thought perhaps this wouldn’t work or just plain didn’t know better.
Take the fabricator at Havens Steel Co. The person who rejected the original design, as far as I know, has never been named publicly. Yet this person made changes to an engineer’s design without permission. To me, it doesn’t matter so much that he had the rubber stamp of approval. He made design changes he should not have made. If anything, he should have just returned the schematics and told the engineer why he couldn’t manufacture the requested piece. He could have then waited for the engineer himself to make changes and resubmit the design for fabrication. Instead, he made a command decision on a matter he had no business making decisions on and then he and Gillum both only verified everything over the phone. There is some of that blame on each of them, in my opinion.
Not to mention that Gillum had to have had people working for him that saw this design. This wasn’t some sort of clandestine project kept hush hush. This was actually a very big deal at the time, this hotel being built. Did nobody question this new design at all? Not one of his colleagues saw this design in all the time this hotel was being planned and built?
I can’t seem to really believe that. And those people know (or knew, depending on how old they were at the time, it’s been forty years this July) who they are and what they did.
Jack Gillum actually owns this disaster all to himself. He takes all responsibility as he was the engineer of record, so the buck stops with him. He has used this very catastrophic oversight as lecture material for engineering conferences as a cautionary tale, and “to help ease his conscience”. (His words, not mine)
So, okay, I talked about all that first to get it clarified and out of the way. Because it’s only right that the victims get the attention they deserve. So now, we are going to turn our focus to them.
KC Star headline, special section in metro newspaper to address the collapse
This instance remains the deadliest unintentional single structural collapse in American history. It claimed the lives of one hundred-fourteen people. It injured one hundred-eighty-eight people. And these weren’t just lives taken or injuries to bodies. This disaster rattled the not only the victims themselves, but also those that were part of the rescue effort, those involved with the planning and construction of the hotel, the entire metro area and all the surrounding smaller cities and towns on the outskirts of the metro. Everyone was shaken when those skywalks collapsed. But none were forever altered the way that the victims were. After this horrific catastrophe over three hundred lives were irrevocably changed. Some families lost a loved family member, some lost more than one in the collapse as many of the attendees were couples and/or families. Many victims were injured, some recovered from the injuries to physical state they were in before the collapse. Others would suffer permanent physical effects from the damage sustained to their bodies. A number of these victims would later go on to deal with massive amounts of post-traumatic stress including such things as nightmares, depression, survivor’s guilt, shock, loss of appetite, mood disorders and so much more. Even many of the rescue workers suffered from PTSD. But the actual victims had to deal with the effects of this tragedy for quite some time, some families are even still dealing with them. After recovering from their injuries, the many victims and families of victims went to work. Over three hundred civil suits were brought to court in the fallout of the Hyatt collapse. A class action lawsuit against Crown Center Corp., a subsidiary of Hallmark Cards (they were the hotel property management group at the time of the collapse, but they were not the owners of the actual property the hotel was built on), seeking compensation for punitive damages won the plaintiffs $10 million, $26.97 million today. This judgement included $6.5 million in donations to charitable and civic causes in an effort to promote healing in the wake of the tragedy. This donation came from Hallmark Cards. All in all, at least $140 million from civil judgements went to victims and their families. This equals approximately $339.9 million in today’s economy. Each of the 1600 guests at the hotel that night were offered one thousand dollars with no strings attached. Out of the 1600 victims, 1300 accepted the money, the rest did not. This was to remain not only the largest non-deliberate structural failure in the country’s history but also the deadliest. The structural collapse of 9/11 was intentional thereby putting it in a different classificational category. Because of this tragedy, there was an updating of the culture and education of the engineering industry. Ethics and emergency management procedures and expectations changed and became stricter, enforcing accountability and responsibility for projects and their finished product. This tragic failure became a valuable teaching tool in order to avoid something like this from happening again. Trade groups issued investigations when necessary, improved the standards by which peer reviews were conducted, sponsored seminars and created new updated trade manuals to improve and increase the professional standard and also the public’s confidence and trust in the engineering profession. The disaster was even cited in 1983 in the argument against President Ronald Reagan’s endeavor to eliminate the National Bureau of Standards. He was not successful at that time.
The Hyatt, then and remodeled
On November 12, 2015, twenty-four and half years after the devastating events of the Hyatt Regency collapse of 1981, a memorial dedicated to the victims of the tragedy was unveiled by the Skywalk Memorial Foundation, a non-profit organization established for the victims, which Hallmark Cards donated $25.000 to. It is located across the street from the hotel in Hospital Hill Park. In 1983 the hotel was remodeled and reconstructed at the cost of $50 million and the newly upgraded was said to be “possibly the safest in the country”, according to local authorities at the time of reopening on October 2, 1981, just less than three months after the collapse itself. In my humble opinion, and I’m not an engineer, I’ve never studied engineering, I’ve never pretended to be an engineer, BUT I do wonder if it’s really possible to make a building that just had the worst accidental structural failure in history the safest building in the country in a little over two months. Seems like an ambitious idea given the circumstances you are starting with. I may even dare to say it’s almost arrogant to say that the building that just incurred this disaster is now the safest building in the country while people who were there at the time of collapse are still reeling and recovering from the tragic events. That seems rather bold and callous to me.
The newly named Sheraton Kansas City at Crown Center
The building was renamed Hyatt Regency Crown Center in 1987 as part of a rebranding plan and again in another rebranding attempt in 2011, making the final name Sheraton Kansas City at Crown Center. While they have tried multiple things over the years to mitigate the effects a disaster like this can have on a brand, they will never be able to erase the history. Boldly, in the remodels over the years, the lobby has kept relatively the exact same layout as the original Hyatt lobby struck by the skywalk collapse. All the fixtures and furniture and décor has been updated and there is almost nothing to remind us of those tragically lost in that very lobby. Except for one thing. In the back of the lobby there is a small framed picture of the original lobby on a plaque with a dedication to those affected and lost in the collapse of 1981. Other than that, the hotel has moved on, not only with the times but also in spirit.
Skywalk Memorial Dedication announcement
This year marks the 40-year memorial anniversary of the collapse. In just a few short months the summer will be upon us here in the Midwest again. But, in the wake of the current times and trends, there are no more Tea Dances at the hotel. And while the days of live bands playing old time dancing music and couples bringing their children to such events as a part of quality family time are long gone, the impact of this horrible event has had a permanent and lasting effect on the industry. And while that certainly will never bring loved ones back, replace or repair damaged psyches and bodies, it does provide a modicum of peace knowing that there are now safety measures and procedures, rules and regulations currently in place to prevent this from ever happening again. These people trusted that that building was safe when they walked in to dance and have cocktails that night. They assumed that the building was “up to code” as we now say. They thought it was just going to be an easy-going night. That trust was abused and overlooked by many of those involved in the project. And the cost was non-refundable, irreplaceable and deadly.
I was lucky that my folks didn’t go to the dance that night. I was lucky that Dad was tired and feeling lazy. We all were. I had my Dad for thirty-three more years after that. I had my Mom for thirty-seven more years. And those years cannot be measured in any way, shape or form. My life could have been very different, but I’m thankful that it wasn’t. My heart still goes out to the victims and their families. May they all find peace. Thank you for reading.
The Kansas City Hyatt Regency Collapse of 1981 Part Two: The Collapse
The story of this devastating structural failure has always remained close to my heart. And here’s why.
In 1981 my father was in his fifth year as a patrolman for a neighboring city police department. That day he had just come off a very long eight-hour shift. He must have gotten home around a little after 3pm and the shift started I think at probably 6am. He was exhausted. Mom asked him as soon as he walked in the door if they could go to the Hyatt that night because it was Friday and they were having their weekly Tea Dance. It started at 5pm and went until 8pm. My mother loved to dance and although Dad didn’t care to dance much past a certain age I guess, but I can personally say that Dad was a very good dancer. But he was raised by a man’s man and dancing just didn’t always fit into that personality. Not to mention that his feet and back were both killing him. All he wanted to do was take a hot shower, shave and brush his teeth and relax in front of the TV, probably to watch an episode of M*A*S*H or something (hey great show, don’t knock it, lol). Mom must have hounded him for at least thirty minutes, maybe even longer. Eventually Dad put his foot down and said they weren’t going that night.
Sitting in a huff and feeling disappointed, Mom and Dad watched television that night after dinner and it seemed that it would be a normal night. That was, of course, until a breaking news announcement came on the airwaves reporting that there had been a tragic accident at the Hyatt, that a structural collapse of the fourth and second floor skywalks had collapsed on several of those attending the Tea Dance.
As my parents watched in horror as each network worked tirelessly to cover the horrific tragedy, it hit them both like a brick to the face that they had escaped serious injury if not outright death by staying home that night. Dad, always being the one to try to lighten a serious mood like that, made the joke that his laziness and tiredness saved their lives. At the time, it WAS a joke. But, looking back now as an adult, it occurs to be often that I could have been orphaned at eleven months old. My brother would have been just under four years old at the time. And my godmother , my Mom’s sister, who was supposed to take us in if something had ever happened to both our parents was only nineteen at that time, just two months shy of twenty.
So, for me, this was what I have always considered a close call and fate, the balance of the universe, the cosmos, God, whatever you want to call it, kept my folks from going dancing that night and it probably saved their lives.
On the evening of July 17, 1981 approximately 1600 people gathered at the Hyatt around 5pm for the start of the evening’s festivities. The party was going well and there were no problems…yet.
To make this easy to follow, we are going to start with a basic timeline of what happened that hot evening in July of 1981. Things in this timeline will be elaborated on later in other articles, but for now this gives us the basic play by play.
During the course of this timeline, I will be referencing various people involved by name. I feel it’s not only easier on the flow of the timeline, but I also believe that these should be named, deserve to be named. So many times, with these kinds of catastrophes we can easily feel removed or detached from the tragedy. But all of the people this affected, from the victims to the survivors to the rescue workers to volunteers and yes, even the ones determined to be at fault should all be given the solemn respect we would all want for our loved ones had they been the ones involved.
This being the case, I thought I should tell you who the main people I mention are, that way you won’t be confused as to their role or place in the situation.
Dr. Joe Waeckerle was an Emergency Medicine Specialist, an ER doctor at Baptist Medical Center.
Jack Gillum (Gillum & Associates) was the engineer of record for the hotel.
Michael Mahoney was an on scene new reporter for KMBC Channel 9 News, an ABC affiliate in Kansas City.
Arnet Williams was the KCFD (Kansas City Fire Department) Deputy Chief from 1980 to 1983. He was Deputy Chief of the KCFD at the time of the collapse.
Chuck and Jean (Regina) Hayes, Tom and Jean Weir, Dalton Grant (who was eleven years old at the time) and Connie Grant (Dalton’s mother) were all partygoers attending the Tea Dance that night.
Everybody ready? Here we go: July 17 5pmTea Dance begins.
5:15pABC News shows up to cover the dance, approx. 1000 people in attendance by this time 6:30p. Hotel lobby full of partygoers, party is in full swing, no problems.
6:50p Wall to wall people attending the dance with more still showing up. 7:00p KMBC News reporter takes escalator to 2nd floor restaurant to get wide shot and film his report where there is less noise, during this take the tape and battery run out in the news camera, the technician replaces both in a matter of minutes.
7:05p4th floor skywalk starts to fall from losing its connection. 117ft of concrete and building material crashes smashing directly onto the 2nd floor skywalk directly below. This causes both skywalks to fall completely. 64 tons of steel, concrete and glass plummets onto the people just below the structures in the lobby
7:06p KMBC news team begins filming again. Lobby is complete rubble. The collapse has broken a water main causing the collapsed and demolished lobby to start flooding with water.
7:10pDozens of 911 calls are made to report the collapse. Emergency personnel begin to race to the scene. 7:15pDr. Waeckerle is on his way home when he hears about the collapse on the radio and immediately begins to drive to the scene to aid in rescue efforts after already having worked a 12 hour shift in the ER at his hospital. Mayor Richard Berkley leaves party at his house to rush to scene. Jack Gillum, the architect of record, is informed of the collapse. He immediately charters a plane to the scene Water from the sprinkler system is still pooling on the main floor of the lobby, except now it is a murky red mixture of water, building debris, dust and blood from the victims. Deputy Chief Williams orders water and electricity cut off for safety reasons.
7:25pDr. Waeckerle arrives and sets up triage and instantly begins to take charge of the medical care inside the disaster scene in the lobby.
7:30pKCFD Liaison arrives. Emergency workers are doing their best to save as many as they can under such difficult conditions. 7:45pDozens of people still trapped inside buried under the rubble of the debris of the collapsed structure. Trapped victims that are still alive are starting to doubt their chances of survival.
7:50pMore than 30 confirmed dead, over 100 injured. Firefighters open hotel front doors with heavy machinery, in fact plowing the doors down, to allow flooding water to flow out of the lobby. Construction workers arrive with jack hammers to break up giant slabs of concrete. Fire Department jacks still are unable to move the debris.
8:05pOperation Bulldozer is ordered and arrives but is ineffective. Cranes are ordered to the scene.
9:15pTrapped survivors are still under debris. They have been trapped for a little over two hours at this point.
10:15pRescuers start final sweep for survivors.
10:30pKMBC reporter releases news story on air to public. 10:50pSeveral victims are found still buried under debris.
11:05pVictim Dalton Grant still trapped but finally located. 11:10pSurvivors in Grant’s area count off, at first 11-12 people, the next count was 7. The victims are running out of time. Construction crews order smashing through the four-story wall of glass windows. Rescuers begin to attach cables to the concrete debris for the cranes to lift. 11:15pGillum arrives to survey the damage, immediately points out the missing “stiffeners” as the cause of the collapse.
July 18 12:02aChuck Hayes, one of the victims is out of surgery. His wife Jane is in critical condition. 12:35aDeath toll has reached over 60 people by this point. Rescuers are currently in contact with 7 people still buried in the rubble and water.
1:30aCranes begin to lift the large sections of skywalk an inch at a time, a long and painful process for everyone involved. 2:05a They uncover Dalton Grant, his mother Connie and a couple by the name of Weirs. All were pulled free of the wreckage. 3:35aRescue has shifted from rescue to recovery. They are now looking for bodies of the dead, believing that no one else has survived. During this effort they find the final survivor Mark Williams. 4:30aJack hammers are used to start to free Mark.
7:45aMark Williams is freed. 30 victims are found dead under the final piece of concrete, bringing the death toll to a total of 111 at the scene. Three more victims passed away at the hospital, making the final death toll 114. 8:05aVictims are recovering in hospitals, including couples like the Weirs and the Hayes couple. 10:00a Chuck Hayes recovering. Jane survived emergency surgery but is still in critical condition at this point. July 19 11:00aInvestigation begins. Box Beam Hanger Rod Connection failure is determined to be the cause of the collapse.
(Aftermath and fallout details to come.) I was less than a year old when this calamity took place. If my parents had gone dancing that night the odds are very high that they both would have been injured in the collapse of the skywalks. And they may or may not have survived. And it is quite possible that I would have never known my parents, which were two of the greatest people I’ve ever known. I am so thankful that Dad was tired and feeling lazy that night. His own patrol partner was called at home and told that he might be needed at the scene and to be on standby. Shortly thereafter, he was phoned and told that the scene had enough police support from the neighboring cities already and that he wasn’t needed to go assist with coordinating traffic and such around the rescue efforts. (Just a little side note: My Dad knew his patrol partner even before he met my mother and Mom and Dad were married 40 years before Dad passed. This man is a part of my family basically. Pretty much like another father figure to me. We are very close and I still keep in contact with him. He was a real-life source for part of the information for this series on the Hyatt Collapse of 1981, allowing me to get an understanding of the overall feelings and impact of the tragedy.) Now, almost forty years later, both of my parents have passed on. The hotel has been rebuilt, refashioned and renamed. There is only a small, tiny photo on the wall in the back of the lobby that commemorates those that were lost to such a horrible tragedy. Though the hotel has been renovated multiple times over the years, the lobby still has the same layout as it did when the collapse happened, an eerie reminder to those in the know that some things cannot be covered up with upgrades , new furniture, new carpet and paint. In my next article, I will detail the cause, the aftermath and the fallout of this infamous and tragic structural failure catastrophe. Stay tuned and thanks for reading!
The Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City, MO was holding its ever popular weekly Tea Dance from 5pm-8pm that Friday the 17th. It would be a day that would be forever cemented in Kansas City and national history as the largest structure failure in the nation until the horrific events of 9/11. This event also served as an eternal reminder to me of how your life can change forever in a matter of seconds.
This collapse killed 114 people and injured 216 other partygoers. These people, their friends and their families will forever be changed by the catastrophic events of that one solitary evening. The partygoers planned for an evening of drinking, dancing and socializing. But what they got was far worse than any of them could have ever imagined.
The Hyatt Regency Hotel first opened July 1, 1980. It was a grand hotel, designed to attract visitors from near and far and create a sense of awe to those who walked through its heavy glass double doors. Set in the booming and high class Crown Center area, this forty story hotel was the creation of dreams and luxury. It included three suspended walkways that each overlooked the hotel lobby, two of which backed up against large glass windows on the west side of the building to allow partygoers to see the lights and wonders of Crown Center lit up at night as well have an elevated view of the party or event happening. The lobby contained a multi-story atrium that was to be the main view from the suspended walkways overhead.
This lobby was designed to be one of the biggest defining features and the central highlight of this grand and extravagant hotel. The lobby was the set for lavish parties, an array of events and of course, the weekly Friday night Tea Dance, playing both the role of hotel lobby and grand ballroom. At the south end of the large room was the live band, playing every toe-tapping tune they knew and working some slow dances in from time to time to appease the romantics in the crowd. To the east of the lobby was the Terrace Restaurant. Directly in the center of this elaborate and opulent chamber was the lounge area, set up for visitors and guests to relax comfortably on beautiful furniture while they sipped at their drink they had gotten from the lobby bar directly west of the lounge. Off behind the bar was the Alcove area where partygoers would stand and people watch and converse amongst themselves as others danced and mingled around the room. This Alcove area was directly under the second and fourth floor suspended walkways while the third floor walkway was offset and more out to the side of the other two, the staggering set up giving great eye appeal for visitors and guests who wanted to see the bigger picture of the event at the time.
Hyatt Regency Walkways prior to collapse
So picture this: It’s Friday night in mid-July in Kansas City, 1981. Temperature is a balmy 85 degrees, having had a slight bit of rain that afternoon had made the air a little heavy and humid. You're off work and ready to start your weekend.
Hotel's Tea Dancing Banner, 1981
You’re going to the weekly Friday night Tea Dance in the city’s newest and grandest hotel. You walk into the hotel through the main entrance on the north side of the building. As soon as you enter you are practically on the dance floor. To the left (East) of the entrance is the lobby area itself. It includes three walk up bars strategically placed for attendee convenience and lounge seating for guests to sit and socialize, remember this is practically in the center of the great room. On the south wall the live band is playing music for the guests to dance to. Above the dance floor is the second floor skywalk and directly above that is the fourth floor skywalk. Remember the third floor skywalk is off to the east slightly so the skywalks are not all stacked on top of each other. Only two and four are situated one directly and completely over the other. The skywalks are all identical in width and length. They were designed to be used as observation towers for the guests, making it an area of social appeal and interest. The west wall is all glass windows to aide in the observation experience. The dance begins at 5pm. You walk into the party and make your way to the bar to order a drink for you and your friends that are with you for the evening . You laugh, dance, socialize, drink and enjoy the fun and fantastic music and the whole ambiance of the environment as you make your way around the different areas of the lobby. You take advantage of the observation skywalks and look out over the party below. You spend the evening taking in and enjoying the atmosphere. The night has been one of laughter, music, fun and friends. All of a sudden you here this unfathomably loud cracking snapping popping type sound. It’s so loud it stops everything. Then, without warning, you are bombarded with a wave of air, enough to tackle you to the floor. The massive force of air is riddled with a mixture of materials. Concrete dust and debris, shards of glass and metal, all flying through the air at amazing, baffling speeds from the pure force behind them. There is a brief moment of complete silence as you try to get your bearings, but that is soon quickly broken by the sound of anguished cries and blood curdling scream. Followed by more heart wrenching desperate demands for help, loved ones, even air. What follows is panic and shock filling the newly damage filled air covered in debris and blood and death. And soon the inevitable realization of your own mortality. Once you get your faculties and senses back, your eyes focused, you realize the lobby now looks as if a bomb had gone off inside it. What was only just minutes before a joyous and festive environment now resembled something of the aftermath in a warzone. You’ve been there just about two hours. And in a matter of minutes you are practically entombed in the rubble of calamity. Concrete is all over you, on top of you, around you. You can hear other people screaming. Screaming for help. Screaming in pain. People who were not standing where you were seem to be calling out to people they know, looking for them among the wreckage. You can’t move. The concrete and steel are mangled around you, over you, on you, prevent you from making any attempt at getting loose on your own. Your head is feeling light and dizzy. You are in so much pain it’s almost as if your body has been overloaded and barely even registers agonizing destruction of your limbs and torso. But little do you know that you will be buried under this rubble and in deadly crisis for well over twelve hours, as the catastrophe has only just begun and the rescue effort hasn’t even started yet. You wonder how long you will make it. You wonder if you’ll make it all. This is the very position hundreds of people are now in, along with you. You are all trapped under the very building you were just dancing and drinking in. Two skywalks along with approximately one hundred-fifty guests are now buried under the rubble of this grand lobby in this luxurious hotel. Time seems to stand still and you are left to wonder, what comes next? And when?
Stay tuned to find out! More articles to come! Thanks for reading!
Images of The Hyatt prior to collapse, 1981 (note: some images may be from during construction)