Chicago, IL Rosemont Stadium Roof Collapse, Aug 1979

Rosemond Horizon Stadium Collapse 1979.jpg


Chicago, Illinois -- The roof of the Rosemont Horizon Stadium, under construction at Mannheim Road and the Northwest Tollway, collapsed Monday without warning, killing five men and injuring 13 others trapped inside.
Wind gusts, jet turbulence and structural faults are being investigated as possible causes.
Construction workers stop and underneath the arched wooden beams that formed the unique roof said they heard a crack and then felt the structure shift before it suddenly collapsed into the middle of the stadium about 8:20 a.m. Monday. A beam at the west end was the first to break, followed by the 13 others in a domino-like fall, witnesses said.
Killed were:
CHESTER M. PHILLIPS, 40, Des Plaines.
MARTIN WILKINSON, 36, Elk Grove Village.
ARTURO REYES, SR., 30, Chicago.
JOHN GEIB, 30, Franklin Park.
DOUGLAS E. WILSON, JR., 25, Chicago.
Thirteen other workers pulled from the rubble were taken to Resurrection Hospital in Chicago, Holy Family Hospital in Des Plaines and Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge. Only one of the injured was listed in critical concition. At the time about 50 men were working at the site.
"I heard a pop -- like a rifle shot -- and I looked and the roof started to shake and thunder, thunder louder than any I've heard," said Jerry Bartlett, 25, production manager for Metal Impact Corp., 10450 Lunt Ave., Rosemont. "Those arcs fell as rapid as machine-gun fire. Everything popped loose and caved in. It (the roof) fell in like a house of cards."
"If it had happened just a few minutes later, we all would have been goners," electrician Leonard Nordbye said. A coffee truck usually pulls into the middle of the stadium at 9 a.m., and about 50 workers lounge around the truck, he said.
A group of federal and private investigators immediately was summoned to the site to examine the structure, but all refused to speculate what caused the accident.
"We're just beginning our investigation," said Gordon Krohm, in charge of the three-man team of investigators from the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration. "It will go on for some time -- for days, probably a week or more."
Krohm said two structural engineers will join the OSHA investigation team today.
Rosemont Village Architect Anthony M. Rossi, who designed the $19 million stadium, also refused to comment about the cause of the collapse.
"I'm not going to speculate at all," Rossi said. "We have to deal with absolutes right now."
The stadium, under construction since September, was scheduled to open Dec. 14 after five years of planning for the huge sport and entertainment center being built on the 30-acre site Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus already had signed a contract to open a show on that day.
"Thank God this didn't happen when 20,000 people were in there for an engagement," said Rosemont resident Brad Beller, who helped paramedics and construction workers dig men out of the debris.
Rosemont Mayor Donald E. Stephens set damage to the stadium at $3 million but said it will be rebuilt exactly as it was designed. The remaining concrete structure is "integrally sound," he said. "There is no damage to the concrete superstructure or the buttresses, which are the main support of the building."
Stephens said he still has "every confidence" in Rossi and builders of the stadium and defended them by saying
"multitudes" of similar construction accidents occur every year.
After touring the muddy site and watching paramedics from four fire departments crawl through the debris searching for bodies, Stephens said he thinks a gust of wind may have lifted the partially completed roof structure, which was inspected by Village Engineer Eric Mees Friday, and caused the collapse.
However, the National Weather Service said winds in the O'Hare Airport area were only 12 to 14 mph between 8 and 9 a.m. and that no gusts were recorded there.
"Our feeling is that had the roof been totally tied in (completed), the accident might not have happened," the mayor said.
He said two additional trusses and a tie-up beam might have secured the structure, which was insured by several carriers.
"Unless our investigation or OSHA's indicate a design fault, we will follow the same roof design," Stephens said. The roof designed for the stadium is unique because it is a laminated, wood, arched beam -- the largest commercial wooden roof of its type east of the Mississippi River. The largest wooden roof in the nation is atop the Arizona State University football stadium in Flagstaff.
The wood-beamed roof was chosen for the Rosemont stadium, financed by a $19 million bond, because it is supposed to provide a natural accoustical baffle to provide a truer sound at concerts and block out outside noise.
Rossi previously said the wooden roof would permit a more rapid construction schedule and reduce construction costs.
Stephens dismissed theories that vibrations from a jet passing overhead could have caused the collapse despite accounts by several workers and witnesses that a jet was roaring over at the same time the roof began shaking.
"That's impossible that it could have caused the collapse," said Jack Janney, chairman and chief executive of Wiss-Janney-Elstner and Associates, a Northbrook engineering firm investigating the accident. "There's a hell of a lot of noise, but there's no atmospheric vibration. Buildings are around airports all over the world, and none have ever fallen."
However, Jim Lapping, director of safety and occupational health for the Building and Construction Trades Union, said investigators still will look into that possibility.
"It will be interesting to know if they considered that in their designs," he said.
Lapping said he will look at bueprints for the project to determine if the plans provided for adequate support for the roof and determine if workers followed the blueprints.
"Sometimes a building is planned so there will be enough support when it's finished but not enough while it's in the middle of construction," he said.
Investigators said they also will examine the possibility of structural faults and allegations by workers that the structure has been sinking since winter.

Daily Herald Chicago Illinois 1979-08-14