Episode 4: The Kansas City Hyatt Regency skywalk collapse

This episode deals with the Hyatt Regency skywalk collapse which happened in Kansas City, MO, in 1981. On July 18, two walkways supported by 12 1-1/4-inch hanger rods gave way during a 1940s-style tea dance in the hotel’s atrium, killing 114 people and injuring hundreds more.

For this episode, I watched the original news footage as well as the skywalk collapse episodes of Minute by Minute and Seconds From Disaster, both of which can be found with a quick YouTube search if you’d like to watch them as well. There is also a book available through Amazon on the collapse called The Hyatt Regency Disaster : Behind The Front Page, which really seems to deal with the personal experiences of one reporter who arrived in the aftermath, so I will admit I didn’t make much use of it.

I also read the official report from the National Bureau of Standards investigation explaining the timeline and causes of the disaster. It’s a pretty dry read, and I’m not kidding when I say a lot of the time I’ve spent preparing the episode was working out the basics of Structural Engineering 101. But once you can wrap your head around the concepts and phrases used, what actually happened in the atrium that day is a lot easier to understand in detail.

The website for the skywalk memorial in Kansas City is located here, and they are accepting donations if you’d like to help out and support remembering those lost in the disaster.

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Episode 4: The Kansas City Hyatt Regency skywalk collapse

2 thoughts on “Episode 4: The Kansas City Hyatt Regency skywalk collapse

  1. Steven B says:

    A few clarification or additional details on this which I hope are at least a little bit interesting

    I was an engineering student at the University of Kansas (30 miles west) at the time and lived in the Kansas city suburbs

    Comments:
    1) I was working as a busboy / waiter / cook on the overnight shift at Denny’s restaurant, located along the highway, a few miles south of the Hyatt during the disaster and people started to drag into the Denny’s about 9pm, increasing to overflowing until I left at 7am the next day, after a 16 hour shift. I learned bits and pieces while trying to serve all these people. We usually didn’t get more than a handful of people after the bars closed, so this was really strange. We had some peripheral survivors, but also lot of police and rescue people coming back to the suburbs. By midnight, we stopped trying to take orders or bill anyone, we didn’t have an actual cook on the overnight shift, so we were doing just basic breakfast for everyone and lots and lots of coffee. Although I never saw the actual incident, seeing the eyes of the ones who did was haunting. Many of those people I serve, were haunted by the rescue for years. This had a lot of ripple effect through the community.

    2) Although the video shows older people at the dance, this was true at 5pm but as it got later, the clientele got younger, with the 20-30’s professionals showing up later after work. The dances were scheduled for 5-8pm but they usually went later than that. It might seem cheesy in the video but it really was big happening in the city. Although I was just a poor geeky college student, I was well aware of the dances. Most of the people who attended were from the Kansas Suburbs where I lived.

    3) The Hyatt hotel opening was a super big deal in the city as it was the first part of the city’s effort to revitalize the midtown area of the city which at the time was known for drugs, prostitution and general shadiness. After the disaster, the area was improved with the union station re-opened, the national WW1 museum located nearby and a new sport arena just up the hill. Somewhat, ironically, the current hotel is connected to Union Station, Crown Center Shopping and Hallmark headquarters by elevated glass enclosed walkways that cross the streets outside.

    4) Ironically, the Hyatt disaster was the third major architectural issue in a few years in Kansas City. In 1977, a sudden downpour overwhelmed the drainage system resulting in a flood of the plaza district (30 blocks south of the Hyatt) killing 25 people and then in 1979, the city’s sports arena (Kemper Arena) collapsed in a rain storm with no one killed but the city was already had questions about building safety before the Hyatt even happened.

    5) Before graduating engineering school, we were all required to take a special class in the Hyatt which was thrown together in by the spring 1982 semester. We had the recheck and recalculate part drummed into us repeatedly after that, by professors that were part of the investigation (for the paper I think)

    Like

  2. I was just in the former Hyatt lobby today and took a photo of it. It is now the Sheraton Hotel. It is creepy in there because I could feel a presence in there. There is one build overbuilt bridge on the second floor and neither the third or fourth story bridges got rebuilt. I remember reading about it in the St. Louis Post Dispatch the next day.

    Liked by 1 person

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