Top 5 Horrible Engineering Mistakes

Architecture, Fail

The general idea behind the engineering of large structures is that you need to mathematically prove beyond a doubt that your design will work – before one shovel of dirt is moved or piece of metal is riveted. However, no matter what the amount of planning that goes into some major engineering projects, some terrible mistakes have been made over the years. Some of them have ended in multiple deaths.

For example:

5. Hyatt Regency Hotel Walkway Disaster


This terrible engineering disaster occurred in 1981 in the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City. On July 17 of that year, there were about 2,000 people in the atrium of the hotel to view a dance contest. There were several dozen people standing on the walkways of the atrium. There were three walkways essentially situated one above the other. At seven pm that evening, these three walkways were jammed with people who were viewing the lobby, which was also full. The fourth level walkway was suspended over the other two. Construction problems and poor communication between two contractors meant that the load was doubled on the connections between the support beams for the fourth floor and the tie rods on the second floor.The design could just barely hold the empty weight of the structure. With hundreds of people on it, the walkways collapsed into the lobby and killed 115 people. Two hundred were injured. Several engineers permanently lost their license to practice in construction.

4. The Great Boston Molasses Disaster


In 1920, a molasses tank that was 50 feet tall and 90 feet in diameter contained about 2 million gallons of molasses. It was put in the middle of Boston for some reason on a very rickety structure. Witnesses said that when the tank collapsed, there was a very loud sound of rumbling sort of like a machine gun as the rivets exploded from the tank. The ground shook as if there was a train going by. The collapse of the tank meant that a massive wave of syrup about 10 feet high poured down the street and went as fast as 30 miles per hour. The molasses had enough strength that it wrecked the girders of the nearby train platform and literally pushed a train off the track. Buildings were ripped from their foundations and were pulverized. There were 21 people killed and 152 people injured.

It was noted afterwards that the company who owned it, Purity Distilling Company, had painted the tank brown to hide all of the leaks. It is thought that it burst due to pressure that built up from fermentation.

3. Skylab


Skylab was launched in 1973 on a Saturn V rocket, and was put into an orbit that was 200 miles above the earth. The problem was that engineers did not account for the aerodynamics of the sun and meteroid shield, as well as one of the solar panels. This caused the satellite to be seriously damaged during the launch. Debris flew off the shiled and caused one of the solar panels to stay pinned to the side. This meant that the solar shield could never deploy, and Skylab never had enough power. Plus, the astronauts always bitched that the place was too damned hot because of the damaged sun shield.

In the end, due to the craft’s many problems, the orbit decayed and Skylab fell and burned up in the atmosphere in 1979.

2. Tacoma Washington Bridge

The Tacoma Narrows bridge consists of two 1 mile long suspension bridges. The main spans are 2,800 feet. The first bridge, later known as Galloping Gertie, was first opened in 1940. It earned its namesake a few months later when it underwent an amazing structural collapse that was caused by wind. It is one of the first major bridge disasters that was actually caught on film (see above). Most amazing of all was that no one died during this disaster. A replacement for this bridge opened in 1950, and today there is a parallel bridge in its place.

1. Chernobyl


This was the worst nuclear plant accident in world history. It is the only one that reached the worst level of the International Nuclear Event Scale – Level 7. In April 1986, Soviet workers were conducting safety tests on the #4 reactor. They shut down several safety features and there was a sudden power spike that caused the reactor to explode and spew deadly radiation into the atmosphere. More explosions caused more radioactive material to spew out, and it is likely that many thousands of people died. The Soviets neglected to inform local residents at first of how deadly the disaster was, and most of the people who viewed the spectacular fires were dead in days from massive radiation poisoning.

For a very informative video about the Chernobyl disaster, watch this:

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