October 31, 2014

Permanent memorial for skywalk tragedy long overdue

Corbin H. Crable
chcrable@gardnernews.com
Thirty years is too long to wait for a permanent memorial to those who died in the Hyatt Hotel skywalk collapse. But this weekend’s planned activities to mark the disaster certainly are a start in the long, arduous healing process.
Kansas Citians – and engineering students as well – are familiar with the tragedy that occurred during a tea dance at the hotel on July 17, 1981.
Two walkways suspended high above the hotel’s atrium  came crashing down on hundreds of partygoers that night. It took crews and volunteers nearly 10 hours to sort through the rubble and pull out the injured, whose numbers exceeded 200, as well as the 114 who died. The incident remains one of the worst hotel disasters in U.S. history.
Eventually, a team of investigative journalists from The Kansas City Star discovered that the accident was completely preventable, a case of an engineering firm that rubber-stamped last-minute changes to the walkways’ installation that proved to be a proverbial recipe for disaster.
Now, after decades of attempts to heal both physical and emotional wounds for the survivors and responders, a memorial service will take place this weekend, on the 30th anniversary of the tragedy.
This service, an acknowledgement that hopefully will give way to a permanent memorial, is obviously needed to offer some type of closure to those whose wounds have not been closed by time. And it’s certainly needed for Kansas City as a whole, especially since the Hyatt itself was designed to be a beacon of culture, innovation and growth for a city that, at the time rife with organized crime and a decaying urban core, sorely needed all three.
Recognizing the Hyatt disaster itself and actually talking about it – something that was ignored for years – is one way to not only heal individual wounds but those of a community, too.
Last semester, I taught my Advanced Reporting students about the Hyatt disaster and what it meant for the city and those directly affected by it. They were visibly interested and shared my own hope that a permanent memorial for its victims is on the way.
But until that goal becomes a reality, all we can do is continue to talk about it – and to never forget what happened that evening.
I urge you to lend your own hand in the healing process and attend this weekend’s activities. Learn more about the Hyatt skywalk tragedy. Donate your time and money to the pursuit of a permanent memorial.
The victims and our city deserve no less, after all.

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