(KMOX) – The Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City was just a year old, but the 40-story building with its revolving restaurant and lobby skywalks was already a popular destination.
July 17, 1981, a Friday night tea dance was becoming the place to be. Reports of over 1500 people were in the atrium that night to dance and drink and have fun. But the evening would end in death, injury, chaos and heroism.
“Getting out of the car and having a guy walk up to me who had a shard of glass sticking through him was my first memory, and the one that’s pretty much seared in my mind,” said retired KCTV photojournalist John Tigert, describing what he saw when he arrived on the scene.
114 would lose their lives, and 216 were injured. Nearly three dozen were rescued from the debris.
The Kansas City Star reported that one victim’s right leg was trapped under an I-beam and had to be amputated by a surgeon, with a chain saw. It was quickly determined that a design flaw had led to the collapse. St. Louis architectural firm, Jack D. Gillum and associates had approved the final drawings. Although criminal negligence charges were not filed, they lost their engineering licenses in Missouri and Kansas.
Gillum told the author of the book, “Last Dance,” any first year engineering student could have figured it out. But pressure to fast track the hotel construction led a project engineer at his firm to approve a design change over the phone.
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