Hyatt Regency Walkway Collapse

On July 17, 1981, the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri, held a videotaped tea-dance party in their atrium lobby.

With many party-goers standing and dancing on the suspended walkways, connections supporting the ceiling rods that held up the second- and fourth-floor walkways across the atrium failed, and both walkways collapsed onto the crowded first-floor atrium below. (The fourth-floor walkway collapsed onto the second-floor walkway, while the offset third-floor walkway remained intact.)

As the United States' most devastating structural failure in terms of loss of life and injuries, the Kansas City Hyatt Regency walkways collapse left 114 dead and in excess of 200 injured. In addition, millions of dollars in costs resulted from the collapse, and thousands of lives were adversely affected.

Three days after the disaster, Wayne Lischka, a structural engineer hired by The Kansas City Star newspaper, discovered a significant change in the design of the walkways. Coverage of the event later earned the Star and its sister publication the Kansas City Times a Pulitzer Prize for local news reporting in 1982.

The two walkways were suspended from a set of steel tie rods, with the second floor walkway hanging directly underneath the fourth floor walkway. The walkway platform was supported on 3 cross-beams suspended by steel rods retained by nuts. The cross-beams were box beams made from C-channels welded toe-to-toe. The original design by Jack D. Gillum and Associates called for three pairs of rods running from the second floor all the way to the ceiling. Investigators eventually determined that this design supported only 60 percent of the minimum load required by Kansas City building codes.

Havens Steel Company, the contractor responsible for manufacturing the rods, objected to the original plan of Jack D. Gillum and Associates, since it required the whole of the rod below the fourth floor to be threaded in order to screw on the nuts to hold the fourth floor walkway in place. These threads would probably have been damaged beyond use as the structure for the fourth floor was hoisted into position. Havens therefore proposed an alternate plan in which two separate sets of tie rods would be used: one connecting the fourth floor walkway to the ceiling, and the other connecting the second floor walkway to the fourth floor walkway.

This design change would prove fatal. In the original design, the beams of the fourth floor walkway had to support only the weight of the fourth floor walkway itself, with the weight of the second floor walkway supported completely by the rods. In the revised design, however, the fourth floor beams were required to support both the fourth floor walkway and the second floor walkway hanging from it. With the load on the fourth-floor beams doubled, Havens' proposed design could bear only 30 percent of the mandated minimum load.

The serious flaws of the revised design were further compounded by the fact that both designs placed the bolts directly in a welded joint between two facing C-channels, the weakest structural point in the box beams. Photographs of the wreckage show excessive deformations of the cross-section. In the failure the box beams split at the weld and the nut supporting them slipped through.

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 that would have revealed its serious intrinsic flaws — in particular, the doubling of the load on the fourth-floor beams.