Kansas City Hotel Disaster – 1961

When the Hyatt Regency Hotel opened its doors for business in downtown Kansas City local leaders were understandably proud of this sumptuous addition to their city’s facilities. It was July 1980, and many features of the building were at the cutting edge of design, in particular the impressive atrium which connected the hotel’s tower block to an adjoining function complex. One year later, on a Friday evening, some 2,000 guests had filled the atrium for a dance party when two suspended walkways running the length of the atrium suddenly gave way and fell onto the crowded lobby below. Many party-goers had been standing on the walkways when the disaster occurred.

The collapse was caused by the failure of connections supporting the fourth-floor walkway ceiling rods. This walkway crashed onto the second-floor walkway directly beneath, which in its turn fell onto the lobby. Most of the deaths were of people either in the lobby or on the second-floor walkway, crushed by falling masonry and other objects. The subsequent investigation brought several disquieting facts to light, not least that the design of the rod connections had been changed at a late stage by the manufacturer to simplify the assembly. This was probably the critical error, but analysis of the surviving offset walkway on the third floor revealed that it had been barely capable of supporting the expected load. There had also been an indication of possible trouble ahead when, during construction in October 1979, a large section of the atrium roof had caved in following the failure of another connecting device. Although the hotel’s design engineers were cleared of criminal negligence, they were all subsequently stripped of their licenses to practice their trade.

When: July 17 1961

Where: Kansas City, Missouri, USA

Death toll: 114

You should know: The Hyatt Regency Hotel re-opened in due course. Sadly, but perhaps not surprisingly, the new building contains no memorial or other reference to the accident.

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