×

July 17, 1981: 114 People Were Killed When A Walkway Collapsed At A Kansas City Hotel

1980s | July 17, 2021

The site of one of the nation's worst disasters is quiet after 113 bodies of the dead had been removed from the lobby of the Hyatt Regency in Kansas City. The still intact third skywalk is overhead as sections of the two walkways that collapsed lie in the

On July 17, 1981, a festive crowd had gathered at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri for a night of dancing, but the revelry was cut tragically short after two of the lobby's walkways collapsed under the weight of the dancing throngs. The accident, the inevitable result of faulty design and shoddy workmanship, killed 114 people and injured over 200 more.

The Hyatt Regency Walkway Collapse

Construction on the Kansas City Hyatt Regency began in May 1978 and quickly ran into problems. Unexpected costs, labor shortages, and other setbacks threatened to delay the hotel's opening, but a few fateful shortcuts got the project across the finish line by July 1, 1980. The upscale, 40-story hotel was a stunning work of architecture, particularly its enormous lobby featuring steel and glass catwalks that crisscrossed overhead, connecting different floors and wings of the building. Each weighed more than 64,000 lbs. and stretched about 120 feet.

The Hyatt Regency hosted weekly events, and on July 17, 1981, it was a Friday night tea dance. More than 1,600 people showed up to party, about 40 of whom crowded onto the second-floor catwalk and 20 on the fourth-floor to get their boogie on. At 7:05 P.M., however, several guests heard a strange popping sound. Seconds later, the fourth-floor catwalk suddenly dropped a few inches, paused, then completely broke free. It crashed onto the second-floor catwalk, causing it to break loose, too, and both walkways plummeted to the dance floor below.

View of the collapsed walkways during the first day of the investigation of the Hyatt Regency walkway collapse. (Dr. Lee Lowery, Jr., P.E./Wikimedia Commons)

Panic At The Disco

The scene in the hotel lobby was gruesome. Concrete, steel, glass, and drywall buried the dead and injured below, and dismembered body parts littered the wreckage. Rescue operations began almost immediately and continued nonstop for the next 14 hours as workers used jackhammers, hydraulic lifts, and concrete saws to free the trapped survivors. They pulled 29 survivors from the rubble and treated another 216 people for injuries. They also extracted the bodies of 114 victims, so many that a makeshift morgue was set up in the hotel's basement.

Investigators later revealed that the walkways were much too heavy to support even their own weight across such vast spans, let alone the weight of several dozen dancers. Until the Surfside condo collapse on June 24, 2021, the Hyatt Regency walkway collapse held the distinction of being the deadliest accidental structural failure in United States history.

Tags: 1980s | architecture | disaster

Like it? Share with your friends!

Share On Facebook

Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.