Last modified on 10 January 2014, at 15:48

Professionalism/Collapse of the TV Antenna in Missouri City, Texas

On December 7, 1982, an 1800 ft television tower collapsed during construction. According to Bill Cordell, a chief engineer for KIKK radio station, the workers had hoisted one of the antennae atop the tower, and as they were raising the second antenna, a lifting pole failed and the antenna fell.[1] The falling antenna severed one of the tower's supporting guy wires and took out the entire tower in seventeen seconds. Five workers were killed, three on the hoist and two on the tower. [2] Mr. Cordell said these victims were employed by Worldwide Tower Service, Inc. A New York Times article identified these victims as: Gene Crosby, 24, David Stewart, 21, Donald K. Owens, 21, Johnnie Wilson, 26, and Johnnie Bratten, 26. Additionally, three other workers atop a nearby building that was crushed by the falling tower were left injured.[3]

Engineer Andy Hudack videotaped this disaster.[4] Some of the footage is included in this video: http://www.history.com/videos/engineering-disasters-antenna-tower-collapse#engineering-disasters-antenna-tower-collapse.

This case is eerily similar to the previous Hyatt Regency Skywalks disaster which is discussed on our colleagues' Hyatt Regency Skywalks page. Fast track design practices and divided responsibilities lead to the basic load calculation errors at the root of both disasters.

Major PlayersEdit

The tower was owned by a group of nine Houston FM radio stations and television station KTXH.[5]

  • World Wide Towers- design company
  • Stainless Inc.- bolt manufacturer
  • Harris Corporation- construction company [6]

Why the accident occurredEdit

Design plans for lifting and installing worked for every section, until the final section. This last section had microwave baskets attached to the sides of the antenna. The lifting lugs, which provided attachment points for lifting cables, were located in such a way that the section could be lifted horizontally out of the loading truck. However, when the section was rotated vertically for hoisting, the lifting lugs were placed so that the lifting cables would interfere with the microwave baskets. The construction company needed to remove the microwave baskets so they could properly attach the lifting cables, but the design company would not permit them to do so. As a result, the construction company designed a temporary extension arm. As they were not professional engineers, they asked the design company to look over and approve of their plans. The design company refused to help because they did not want to be held liable.[7]

Ethical IssuesEdit

The issues begin with an inadequate design of the hoisting lugs by World Wide Towers. The design did not account for interference of the microwave baskets for the vertical lifting of the final section. Harris Corporation did not realize that this was a problem until the section was about to be assembled. Should World Wide Towers have designed the hoisting lug more carefully? Should Harris have reviewed the plans more carefully before beginning work on the tower?[8]

World Wide Towers had had problems on previous projects when debris interfering with the wave guides after the microwave baskets were temporarily removed. Therefore, when Harris requested temporary removal for assembly, World Wide Towers refused. Should World Wide Towers have risked financial expense and allowed Harris to remove the baskets?[9]

Harris decided to design an extension to the hoisting lug using an extension arm and U-bolts on site. Since Harris did not have a professional engineer on staff, they asked World Wide Towers to review the plans. World Wide Towers refused and Harris used the design anyway. Should World Wide Towers have reviewed the design, even with the liability risk? Should Harris have endangered the lives of their employees by using a design that was not approved by a PE?[10]

In the end, an extra moment on the extension arm across the U-bolts, not accounted for in design, coupled with faulty U-bolts that only carried about half the load for which they were rated, caused the accident. Full liability was assumed by the bolt manufacturer, Stainless Inc., who had had previous problems with inadequate bolts and therefore wanted to stay out of court. Was Stainless Inc. really fully responsible for the accident? Should some of the liability been placed on World Wide Towers and Harris for negligence?[11]

Construction is driven by budgets and schedules, and sometimes the fact that people's lives may be at stake does not factor into decision making. This is a case where financial and liability concerns of the companies overshadowed ethical concerns leading to reckless decisions. Even though full liability was assumed by the bolt manufacturer, the entire chain of events during the assembly of the last section was responsible for the accident. If one of the companies had assumed ethics and human lives as the number one priority over financial gain, the deadly chain of events may have been stopped and the disaster avoided.

Similar CasesEdit

Oddly enough, there are many similar cases to the Missouri City collapse. One that is strikingly similar is the case involving Hyatt Regency Skywalks. Both of these occurred in the southern mid-west area of the United States and were a product of underestimating loads.

While both involved failed load estimates, the Hyatt incident also had a faulty design to begin with, whereas the Missouri City collapse was the result of a makeshift plan to raise the antenna. Another facet of construction that impacted both of these project was their fast-tracked schedules. While keeping a construction project on schedule is important, it does not override the value of human life. The final designs for both the Hyatt and the TV antenna were not inspected by a qualified engineer. Maybe if a certified engineer had looked at Harris's makshift plans, the collapse would not have occurred.

It's amazing that this failure even happened, given that the tower collapsed about a year and a half after the Hyatt incident. The Hyatt collapse had received a lot of press in the United States and should have caught the eye of the people working on this tower.

ReferencesEdit

  1. 5 Workers Hurled to Deaths as a Texas Tower Collapses. New York Times, December 8, 1982. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
  2. http://ethics.tamu.edu/ethics/tvtower/tv3.htm
  3. 5 Workers Hurled to Deaths as a Texas Tower Collapses. New York Times, December 8, 1982.
  4. 5 Workers Hurled to Deaths as a Texas Tower Collapses. New York Times, December 8, 1982.
  5. 5 Killed, 3 Injured as Tall TV Tower Collapses in Texas. Los Angeles Times, December 7, 1982. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
  6. http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=18235134849830565803&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr
  7. Engineering Ethics: TV Antenna Tower Collapse. Department of Philosophy and Department of Mechanical Engineering. Texas A&M University. June 1992.
  8. Engineering Ethics: TV Antenna Tower Collapse. Department of Philosophy and Department of Mechanical Engineering. Texas A&M University. June 1992.
  9. Engineering Ethics: TV Antenna Tower Collapse. Department of Philosophy and Department of Mechanical Engineering. Texas A&M University. June 1992.
  10. Engineering Ethics: TV Antenna Tower Collapse. Department of Philosophy and Department of Mechanical Engineering. Texas A&M University. June 1992.
  11. Engineering Ethics: TV Antenna Tower Collapse. Department of Philosophy and Department of Mechanical Engineering. Texas A&M University. June 1992.