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The Hyatt Regency walkway collapse took place at the Hyatt Regency Kansas City hotel in Kansas City, Missouri, on July 17, 1981. Two walkways, one directly above the other, collapsed onto a tea dance being held in the hotel's lobby. The falling walkways killed 114 and injured 216.[2] It was the deadliest structural collapse in U.S. history[3] until the collapse of the World Trade Center towers 20 years later.

Hyatt Regency walkway collapse
Hyatt Regency collapse end view.PNG
Locations of the second- and fourth-story walkways, which both collapsed into the lobby of the Hyatt Regency hotel.
DateJuly 17, 1981 (1981-07-17)
Time19:05 (CDT) (UTC−5)
LocationKansas City, Missouri, U.S.
CauseStructural overload resulting from design flaws[1]
Non-fatal injuries216



The construction of the 40-story Hyatt Regency Kansas City began in May 1978. Despite delays and setbacks, including an incident in which 2,700 square feet (250 m2) of the roof collapsed, the hotel officially opened on July 1, 1980.

One of the defining features of the hotel was its lobby, which incorporated a multistory atrium spanned by elevated walkways suspended from the ceiling. These steel, glass and concrete crossings connected the second, third and fourth floors between the north and south wings. The walkways were approximately 120 ft (37 m) long[4] and weighed approximately 64,000 lb (29,000 kg).[5] The fourth-level walkway was directly above the second-level walkway.


Aftermath of the walkway collapse

On the evening of Friday, July 17, 1981, approximately 1,600 people gathered in the atrium for a tea dance.[6] At 7:05 p.m. local time (00:05 UTC; July 18) the second-level walkway held approximately 40 people with more on the third and an additional 16 to 20 on the fourth level.[4] The fourth-floor bridge was suspended directly over the second-floor bridge, with the third-floor walkway offset several meters from the others.

Popping noises were heard moments before the fourth-floor walkway dropped several inches, paused, then fell completely onto the second-floor walkway. Then both walkways fell to the lobby floor. There were 114 deaths (almost all at the scene) and 219 injuries.[7]

The rescue operation lasted fourteen hours.[8] Survivors were buried beneath steel, concrete and glass which the fire department's jacks could move. In response to an appeal, volunteers brought jacks, torches, compressors, jackhammers, concrete saws and generators from construction companies and suppliers.[9] Cranes were brought, their booms forced through the lobby windows to bring them into position to lift debris.[10] Joseph Waeckerle, former chief of Kansas City's emergency medical system, directed the rescue effort [2] establishing a makeshift morgue in a ground floor exhibition area,[11] using the hotel's driveway and front lawn as a triage area and helping to organize the wounded by greatest need for medical care.[12] Those who could walk were instructed to leave the hotel to simplify the rescue effort; those mortally injured were told they were going to die and given morphine.[7][13] Often, rescuers had to dismember bodies to reach survivors among the wreckage.[7] One victim's crushed leg was amputated by a surgeon using a chainsaw.[14]

Water from the hotel's ruptured sprinkler system flooded the lobby and put trapped survivors at risk of drowning; Mark Williams, who spent more than nine hours pinned underneath the lower skywalk with both legs pulled from their sockets, nearly drowned before the water was shut off. Visibility was poor because of dust and because power had been cut to prevent fires.[15][10]

Twenty-nine people were rescued from the rubble.[16]


Investigators found that changes to the design of the walkway's steel tie rods were the cause of its failure.

Three days after the disaster, Wayne G. Lischka,[17] an architectural engineer hired by The Kansas City Star newspaper, discovered a significant change to the original design of the walkways. Reportage of the event later earned the Star and its associated publication the Kansas City Times a Pulitzer Prize for local news reporting in 1982.[18] Radio station KJLA would later earn a National Associated Press award for its reporting on the night of the disaster.

The two walkways were suspended from a set of 1.25-inch-diameter (32 mm) steel tie rods,[19] with the second-floor walkway hanging directly under the fourth-floor walkway. The fourth-floor walkway platform was supported on three cross-beams suspended by steel rods retained by nuts. The cross-beams were box girders made from C-channel strips welded together lengthwise, with a hollow space between them. The original design by Jack D. Gillum and Associates specified three pairs of rods running from the second floor to the ceiling. Even this original design supported only 60% of the minimum load required by Kansas City building codes.[20]

Havens Steel Company, manufacturer of the rods, objected that the whole of the rod below the fourth floor would have to be screw threaded in order to screw on the nuts to hold the fourth-floor walkway in place; in addition these threads would be subject to damage as the fourth-floor structure, including the threaded rods, was hoisted into place. Havens therefore proposed that two separate—and offset—sets of rods would be used: the first set suspending the fourth-floor walkway from the ceiling, and the second set suspending the second-floor walkway from the fourth-floor walkway.[21]

In the original design, the beams of the fourth-floor walkway had to support only the weight of the fourth-floor walkway, with the weight of the second-floor walkway supported completely by the rods. In the revised design, however, the fourth-floor beams supported both the fourth-floor walkway and the second-floor walkway hanging from it, but in fact were strong enough only for 30% of that load.[20]

The serious flaws of the revised design were compounded by the fact that both designs placed the bolts directly through a welded joint connecting two C-channels, the weakest structural point in the box beams. The original design was for the welds to be on the sides of the box beams, rather than on the top and bottom. Photographs of the wreckage show excessive deformations of the cross-section.[22] During the failure, the box beams split along the weld and the nut supporting them slipped through the resulting gap between the two C-channels which had been welded together, which was consistent with reports that the upper walkway at first fell several inches, after which the nut was held only by the upper side of the box beams; then the upper side of the box beams failed as well, allowing the entire walkway to fall.

Investigators concluded that the basic problem was a lack of proper communication between Jack D. Gillum and Associates and Havens Steel. In particular, the drawings prepared by Jack D. Gillum and Associates were only preliminary sketches but were interpreted by Havens as finalized drawings. Jack D. Gillum and Associates failed to review the initial design thoroughly, and accepted Havens' proposed plan without performing basic calculations or viewing sketches that would have revealed its serious intrinsic flaws — in particular, the doubling of the load on the fourth-floor beams.[20] It was later revealed that when Havens called Jack D. Gillum and Associates to propose the new design, the engineer they spoke with simply approved the changes over the phone.[23]


The engineers employed by Jack D. Gillum and Associates who had "approved" the final drawings were found culpable of gross negligence, misconduct and unprofessional conduct in the practice of engineering by the Missouri Board of Architects, Professional Engineers, and Land Surveyors. Even though they were acquitted of all crimes that they were initially charged with, they all lost their respective engineering licenses in the states of Missouri, Kansas and Texas and their membership with ASCE.[22] Although the company of Jack D. Gillum and Associates was discharged of criminal negligence, it lost its licenses to be an engineering firm in Missouri and Kansas.[20][24]

At least $140 million (equivalent to $386 million today) was awarded to victims and their families in both judgments and settlements in subsequent civil lawsuits; a large amount of this money was from Crown Center Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Hallmark Cards which was the owner of the hotel real estate. As is the practice of many hoteliers, Hyatt operated the hotel for a fee as a management company, and did not own the building. Life and health insurance companies are likely to have absorbed even larger uncompensated losses in policy payouts.[25][26]

The Hyatt collapse remains a classic model for the study of engineering ethics and errors, as well as disaster management.[27] As an engineer of record for the Hyatt project, Jack D. Gillum (1928–2012)[28] occasionally shared his experiences at engineering conferences in the hope of preventing future mistakes.[29]

The hotel's lobby was rebuilt with only one crossing, on the second floor, supported from beneath by columns.

Several rescuers suffered considerable stress due to their experience, and later relied upon each other in an informal support group.[8] Jackhammer operator "Country" Bill Allman died by suicide.[30]

The hotel was renamed the Hyatt Regency Crown Center in 1987, and again the Sheraton Kansas City at Crown Center in 2011. It has been renovated numerous times since, though the lobby retains the same layout and design. The hotel's owner announced a $13-million renovation as part of its re-flagging to the Sheraton brand completed in 2012.


A memorial in Hospital Hill Park, across the street from the hotel, was dedicated on November 12, 2015.[31]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ *Marshall, Richard D.; et al. (May 1982). Investigation of the Kansas City Hyatt Regency walkways collapse. Building Science Series. 143. U.S. Dept. of Commerce, National Bureau of Standards. Retrieved 2018-02-17.
  2. ^ a b David Martin (September 14, 2011). "Former Chiefs doctor Joseph Waeckerle--a veteran of the NFL's concussion wars--is on a mission to protect young players". The Pitch. Kansas City. Archived from the original on 2012-09-26. Retrieved January 15, 2011. After he finished exercising, Waeckerle heard what everyone else would soon hear: that a fourth-floor walkway had collapsed on a tea dance at the Hyatt Regency. The director of Kansas City's emergency medical system from 1976 to 1979, Waeckerle learned that his replacement was out of town. He rushed to the scene.
  3. ^ Petroski, Henry (1992). To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Failure in Structural Design. Vintage. ISBN 978-0-679-73416-1.
  4. ^ a b National Bureau of Standards (May 1982). "Investigation of the Kansas City Hyatt Regency Walkways Collapse". US Department of Commerce. Retrieved 2018-02-17.
  5. ^ "Hotel Horror". Kansas City Public Library. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  6. ^ Ramroth, William (2007). Planning for disaster: how natural and man-made disasters shape the built environment. Kaplan Business. p. 177. ISBN 978-1-4195-9373-4.
  7. ^ a b c Friedman, Mark (2002). Everyday crisis management: how to think like an emergency physician. First Decision Press. p. 134. ISBN 978-0-9718452-0-6. Archived from the original on 2014-01-03.
  8. ^ a b "Lives forever changed by skywalk collapse". Lawrence Journal World. Lawrence, Kansas: Associated Press. July 15, 2001. Archived from the original on 2010-06-14. Retrieved 2011-01-28.
  9. ^ D'Aulairey, Emily; Per Ola D'Aulairey (July 1982). "There Wasn't Time To Scream". The Reader's Digest: 49–56. They said 'take what you want'" recalls Deputy Fire Chief Arnett Williams, who directed the department's operation that night. "I don't know if all those people got their equipment back. But no one has ever asked for an accounting and no one has ever submitted a bill.
  10. ^ a b McGuire, Donna. "20 years later: Fatal disaster remains impossible to forget". Kansas City Star. Archived from the original on 22 August 2011. Retrieved 3 December 2011.
  11. ^ The Associated Press Library of Disasters: Nuclear and Industrial Disasters. Grolier Academic Reference. Associated Press. 1997. p. 67. ISBN 978-0-7172-9176-2.
  12. ^ Waeckerle, Joseph F. (March 21, 1991). "Disaster Planning and Response". New England Journal of Medicine. 324 (324): 815–821. doi:10.1056/nejm199103213241206.
  13. ^ O'Reilly, Kevin (2 January 2012). "Disaster medicine dilemmas examined". American Medical News. 55 (1). Retrieved 9 August 2013.
  14. ^ "Disaster made heroes of the helpers". Kansas City Star. Archived from the original on 16 October 2014. Retrieved 23 April 2014.
  15. ^ "Hyatt skywalks collapse changed lives forever," Kansas City Star, Kevin Murphy, July 9, 2011.
  16. ^ Incident Command System for Structural Collapse Incidents; ICSSCI-Student Manual (FEMA P-702 ed.). FEMA. 2006. pp. SM 1–7. Retrieved 10 October 2011. Twenty-nive live victims were removed from under the debris during the rescue operations
  17. ^
  18. ^ "The Pulitzer Prizes – Local General or Spot News Reporting". Retrieved 2010-07-30.
  19. ^ Baura, Gail (2006). Engineering ethics: an industrial perspective. Academic Press. p. 55. ISBN 978-0-12-088531-2.
  20. ^ a b c d "Hyatt Regency Walkway Collapse". School of Engineering, University of Alabama. Archived from the original on 2007-08-14. Retrieved 2017-01-29.
  21. ^ Whitbeck, Caroline (1998). Ethics in Engineering Practice and Research. New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 116. ISBN 0-521-47944-4.
  22. ^ a b "Hyatt Regency Walkway Collapse". 2006-10-24. Retrieved 2006-06-01.
  23. ^ Rick Montgomery (July 15, 2001). "20 years later: Many are continuing to learn from skywalk collapse". Kansas City Star. p. A1. Archived from the original on January 8, 2016. Retrieved 14 March 2017.
  24. ^ Rick Montgomery (July 15, 2001). "20 years later: Many are continuing to learn from skywalk collapse". Kansas City Star. p. A1. Archived from the original on January 8, 2016. Retrieved 14 March 2017.
  25. ^ "Hyatt Regency Disaster | ThinkReliability, Case Studies". ThinkReliability.
  26. ^ "The Hyatt Regency disaster 20 years later".
  27. ^ Auf der Heide, Erik (1989). Disaster Response: Principles of Preparation and Coordination. St. Louis MO: C.V. Mosby Company. pp. 3, 72, 76, 82. ISBN 0-8016-0385-4.
  28. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-12-17. Retrieved 2013-08-07.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  29. ^ Rick Montgomery (July 15, 2001). "20 years later: Many are continuing to learn from skywalk collapse". Kansas City Star. p. A1. Archived from the original on January 8, 2016. Retrieved 14 March 2017.
  30. ^ Murphy, Kevin; Rick Alm and Carol Powers (2011). The last dance : the skywalks disaster and a city changed : in memory, 30 years later. Kansas City Star Books (1st ed.). Kansas City, Mo. p. 127. ISBN 978-1-61169-012-5.
  31. ^ Campbell, Matt (November 12, 2015). "Memorial to Kansas City skywalk disaster finally a reality". Kansas City Star. Retrieved August 27, 2016.

Further readingEdit

  • Petroski, Henry. To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Failure in Structural Design, New York: Random House, 1985. See esp. pages 85–93 in the chapter "Accidents Waiting To Happen." For example, page 89: "After the walkways were up there were reports that construction workers found the elevated shortcuts over the atrium unsteady under heavy wheelbarrows, but the construction traffic was simply rerouted and the designs were apparently still not checked or found wanting."
  • Marshall, Richard D.; et al. (May 1982). Investigation of the Kansas City Hyatt Regency walkways collapse. Building Science Series. 143. U.S. Dept. of Commerce, National Bureau of Standards. Retrieved 2018-02-17.
  • Levey, M.; Salvadori, M.; Woest, K. (1994). Why Buildings Fall Down: How Structures Fail. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0-393-31152-5.
  • Murphy, Kevin; Rick Alm and Carol Powers. The Last Dance : The Skywalks Disaster and a City Changed : In Memory, 30 Years Later. Kansas City Star Books (1st ed.). Kansas City, Mo. ISBN 978-1-61169-012-5. – (All author royalties of this book are being donated to the memorial project)

External linksEdit