KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A former Kansas City Public Library historian is bringing forth papers he’s uncovered related to the 1981 Hyatt Skywalk collapse.
The new book, based on an attorney’s claims, say the Crown Center Redevelopment Corporation, created by Hallmark for the project, also played a part in the tragedy.
The memorial here honors the 114 victims killed and more than 200 injured. While much has been learned since the tragedy there’s dispute from those involved in the project whether this book could also impact future safety.
“She watched Joe lift his arms and disappear underneath a pile of debris. Evelyn bravely started to run toward her husband but a wall of wind knocked her back toward the pit,” author Eli Paul read from a passage of his book “Skywalks: Robert Gordon’s Untold Story of Hallmark’s Kansas City Disaster” at a Kansas City Public Library event Thursday.
180 boxes full of material gathered by Robert Gordon, a plaintiff’s attorney in the Hyatt Regency Skywalk Collapse, were presented to the Missouri Valley Special Collection which Paul directed.
Bob Berkebile spent that night in 1981 trying to help rescue victims, 114 were killed and more than 200 injured when the skywalks collapsed during a tea dance. He then returned the next morning to try to figure out what went wrong. He was the project’s architect.
“I’m not a structural engineer. as soon as i looked I knew immediately what had failed as did everyone,” Berkebile said.
It was determined the skywalk’s collapse was the result of an engineering failure. What should have been a single floor to ceiling rod was replaced by two.
“When they made that change it changed the loading on the steel rods it doubled the load at the point where they failed, it just never got caught,” Bill McCarthy, former Project Manager for Midwest Mechanical Contractors, said.
In “Skywalks: Robert Gordon’s Untold Story of Hallmark’s Kansas City Disaster” author Eli Paul lays out the attorney’s claims the tragedy could have been prevented if they’d paid more attention to an earlier 1979 collapse of the atrium roof during construction.
“He believed that these warnings were not heeded by the team put together to build the hotel,” Paul said of Gordon.
“I was in those meetings and that conclusion couldn’t be further from the truth,” Berkebile said.
Berkebile said construction shut down for weeks so the first issue could be studied.
“The specific words I used and we all used at the time is investigate every connection steel to steel and steel to concrete,” he said.
Gordon’s federal lawsuit never went to trial. He said his co-attorneys settled out of court in1983 without him. The Founding Principal of BNIM, Berkebile can see the site of the tragedy every day from his office. He’s glad much has been learned from it in future construction.
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“To honor those lives accepting the reality as hard as it is is better than trying to find someone to blame like Don Hall and Hallmark that’s a disservice to those families and this community,” he said.
In response to the book Hallmark released the following statement:
It has been nearly 42 years since the tragedy at the Hyatt Regency and 40 years since
the related litigation was resolved, and we have never forgotten the victims and their
families. All three judicial authorities that reviewed the matter concluded the
independent engineers’ design of the skywalks was to blame. We reject any narrative
that is inconsistent with the facts, the findings, and the legal record.