Kansas City, MO Walkways Collapse In Hyatt Hotel, July 1981



Kansas City, Mo. -- The death toll rose to 111 Saturday in the collapse of two crowded walkways that plunged to the ground in the Hyatt Regency Hotel's once-spectacular lobby.
Scores of people fell with the spans and hundreds more were on the floor beneath, but officials said the cause of the tragedy was not known.
Owners and operators of the year old $50 million, 750-room convention center worked to determine a cause. City officials announced their own independent investigation.
Police officially raised the death toll figue to 111. In all, 168 people were injured, with at least 83 of them requiring hospitalization, police said. Nine were listed in critical or very serious condition.
Grim-faced rescue teams using giant construction cranes and sometimes their bare hands to recover 108 bodies from the tons of debris. Three other victims died of their injuries at local hospitals.
One witness estimated 100 people were on the 75-yard-long second floor walkway Friday night when another walkway crashed down from above, toppling both spans into a large crowd attending a popular weekly "Tea Dance."
JIM WHITE, a city building administrator, said the walkways should have been capable of handling normal traffic, "but maybe not all the people standing there and dancing."
Hotel officials refused to say how many people the walkways were designed to support. PAT FELEY, president of Hyatt Hotels Corp., said he had been assured by the building's owner, Crown Center Redevelopment Corp., that the walkways could handle large crowds.
"The catwalks were designed to hold people shoulder-to-shoulder, as many as you can hold on there," FOLEY said.
Mayor RICHARD BERKLEY said it would be premature to say who was at fault.
"I personally thick it would be premature to try to assess any fault at this point," BERKLEY said. "Obviously, there was a fault."
Fire department spokesman HAROLD KOABE said many of the people on the walkways were swaying to the rhythem of Duke Ellington's "Satin Doll" at the time of the collapse. Officials speculated that the movement might have contributed to the disaster.
CAROLYN MEYER said she was on the second floor walkway five minutes before it fell. "It was packed. You couldn't even get up to the rail," she said.
"We do not know the cause of the tragedy," JIM HOWARD, a hotel vice president, said in a letter to Gov. Christopher Bond, "However, as managers of the property, we do know that the structural integrity and safety of the building had been assured by the architects, the building contractor and his subcontractor and in subsequent building inspections."
Spokesmen for Hyatt Corp. Chairman JAY A. PRITZKER said he had left Chicago and was in Kansas City on Saturday. Spokesman for both the Hyatt Corp. and the PRITZKER family, which owns the Hyatt chain, had no further comment.
Mayor Berkley began a City Council briefing Saturday with a moment of silence for victims, and said city records related to the hotel's construction would be made available.
The hotel was bathed in light through the night as some 1,000 volunteers, firefighters and medics used jackhammers, blowtorches, three huge carnes and bare hands to unsnarl the tangled wreckage on the floor of the atrium, which is surrounded by tiers of bars and restaurants.
Above the rescuers was a third walkway, one that did not cross under the fourth-floor walkway and was not caught in the collapse. JERRY JETTE, an aide to BERKLEY, said rescuers were "working under dangerous conditions" and had "not ruled out the possibility that it could fall."
Some discoveries were happy ones: 10 injured people were found Saturday, and searchers cheered when they lifted survivors from the rubble. But most were grim, the final 31 bodies were found buried together under a concrete slab.
Some bodies were mutilated by the impact of sharp steel, shattered glass and tons of concrete.
KNABE described how rescuers heard the moans of a trapped 11-year-old boy about five hours after the collapse.
"A firefighter, MICHAEL TRADER, laid on his belly for more than an hour talking to him and reassuring him while we went to work with jackhammers and blowtorches," KNABE said. "The boy said he could feel his mother but he couldn't see her or hear her."
The collapse was the worst disaster in Kansas City history in terms of deaths. Nationally, it killed more people than such 1980 disasters as the eruption of Mount St. Helens, 60 dead or missing, or the MGM Grand fire, where 84 died. It took more American lives than any single disaster since the crash of a DC-10 killed 274 people near O'Hare Airport in May 1979.
K. C. Tragedy Hits PALATINE Family.
The call came at 4 a.m.
MR. and MRS. ROBERT WEIR of Palatine were awakened to learn that the tragedy in Kansas City had become their own tragedy. Their son TOM, 30, and his wife REGINA had been amoun the party-goers at the Kansas City Hyatt when two skywalks tore loose.
The phone call from the WEIRS' other son, who lives in Overland Park, Kan., informed the WEIRS that TOM and REGINA were badly hurt, but had survived being buried in the wreckage for eight hours, during which they called out to each other from time to time for reassurance.
"They didn't get them out until 3 (a.m.)," said MARY B. O'MALLEY, MRS. WEIR'S mother, who moved with the family to Palatine from Overland Park last October. TOM and REGINA WEIR line in Kansas City.
"His left foot is badly injured and his back. His wife is hurt too, her right leg is broken in two places," MRS. O'MALLEY said.
She said MR. and MRS. WEIR caught the first available plane at around 11 a.m. to Kansas City, where they visited their son and his wife in the hospital.
When the family went to bed Friday night, MRS. O'MALLEY said, they had no idea any of their family members had been at the ill-fated dance at the Hyatt.
"We're just waiting to hear how they're doing," she said. "They're hurt real bad."

Daily Herald Chicago Illinois 1981-07-19