Segments in this Video

History of Engineering Disasters (04:19)


The Code of Hammurabi included penalties for violating building codes; the Colossus of Rhodes broke off at the knees during an earthquake. Disasters have occurred through history when engineers test limits of materials and their knowledge.

Tacoma Narrows Bridge Disaster (03:43)

The Tacoma Narrows Bridge opened in 1940. It began swaying in the wind within days and after four months, a 40mph wind destroyed it. Engineers were making bridges longer, thinner, and lighter, but the disaster prompted the consideration of aerodynamics in designs.

Kansas City Hyatt Disaster (02:00)

On July 17, 1981, 1,500 people attended an event at the hotel. stressing walkways suspended over the lobby. The walkways collapsed under the weight, killing 114 partygoers.

The Titanic (02:48)

On the ship's maiden voyage, it hit an iceberg, creating a modest hole on the starboard side. Engineering flaws ranging from bulkhead vulnerability to high sulphur content in the steel caused the ship to flood and break apart; nearly 1,500 people perished.

Teton Dam Disaster (02:48)

The Bureau of Reclamation began dam construction in 1972, building on subsoil; they were criticized for pushing a poorly planned project. When filled, water eroded dam foundations and the wall, causing it to collapse. Two towns were destroyed, and the incident prompted review of construction and inspection laws.

History of Aviation Disasters: Fear of Flying (02:12)

Greek mythology’s Daedalus and Icarus represent the first aviation disaster. On May 6, 1937, The Hindenburg landed after an electrical storm; a hydrogen leak and static spark caused the airship to explode and incinerate, killing 36 people.

Aviation Disasters: DC 10 Crash (03:51)

In 1989, on route to Chicago, a McDonnell Douglas DC 10’s fan disc was compromised, impacting its tail engine and hydraulic lines, resulting in lack of control. The plane made it to Sioux City airport, where it crash landed; 185 people survived, but 111 perished.

Aviation Disasters: Aluminum and Flight 800 (04:04)

Maintenance is important to aircraft integrity; aluminum fatigues with pressurization. In 1988, the top of an Aloha Airlines plane tore off due to a known design flaw. TWA 800 exploded at high altitude causing the aircraft to crash into the Atlantic, killing all onboard.

Aviation Disasters: Apollo Program (04:21)

Apollo One astronauts perished in a training module when faulty wiring caused a fire. When fuel cells on Apollo 13 exploded, astronauts used the landing module to return home; melted wiring caused an explosion, blowing off its side.

Challenger Disaster: Heartbreak (02:09)

On January 28, 1986, The Challenger exploded in the Earth's atmosphere. A rubber O ring failed, allowing flames to burn through the main fuel tank and igniting contained hydrogen and oxygen. The O rings were known to be faulty in low temperatures; technicians attempted to stop the launch.

Mitigated Disaster: Hubble (02:24)

The Hubble Space Telescope was in orbit when technicians discovered the main mirror was distorted. NASA sent Story Musgrave to fix it and he discovered multiple issues, costing $50 million to repair.

Industrial Disasters: Nuclear Power Plants (05:14)

Half of Three Mile Island’s Reactor Two melted due to a combination of failures; radiation was contained. In Chernobyl, a reactor exploded and burned during an experiment wherein the emergency water coolant system was shut off; the core was exposed, pushing radioactive materials into the atmosphere.

Industrial Disasters: The Worst of the Worst (03:17)

In 1984, Nepal’s Union Carbine pesticide plant leaked 50,000 pounds of methyl isocyanate gas, blinding and killing thousands in Bhopal. Massive underground tanks were overfilled, and mitigating systems had been unmaintained or removed. The Indian government sued the company for criminal negligence.

Anticipated Disasters: Rockets (08:00)

Engineering is process driven and new designs are failure prone; rocketry experts emerged in the 1930s. After creating the V2 rocket, Wernher Von Braun came to America, where he experienced several disasters before producing the Saturn V; the Titan IV resulted in costly problems.

Military Disasters: The Chauchat (04:43)

During World War I, Americans serving in Europe received the poorly manufactured automatic rifle; it is unknown how many soldiers died using it. The United States and British armies had better guns but refused to equip soldiers due to political reasons.

Military Disasters: USS Thresher (07:46)

The world’s fastest, quietest, and deepest diving boat was designed to destroy superlatively destructive boomers. During maximum depth trials, the captain reported problems that required emergency blow procedures to surface. Systems failed because of valve design flaws; and the ship sank, killing all aboard.

Military Disasters: Liberty Ships (04:34)

Liberty Ships were America’s way of cheaply and expediently fighting a two-ocean war. Seven broke apart, sinking instantly, while 40 sustained major damages due to the substandard steel’s reaction to cold. Horizontal welds addressed the flaws, and the boats helped win the war.

Andrea Doria Disaster (03:52)

In 1956, the luxury liner collided with the cargo vessel Stockholm. The icebreaker's bow created a hole in the Andrea Doria's starboard and the ship sunk; 51 people died. Divers found that radar visibility flaws caused the ships to turn directly into each other’s paths.

Structural Engineering Disasters (04:03)

In January 1978, the Hartford Civic Center's roof buckled under the weight of wet snow. The communication of the engineer’s calculations to the builders and contractors caused the failure. The Kemper Arena’s roof collapsed when a rainstorm weakened the bolts.

Preventable Disasters (10:11)

The Saint Francis Dam collapsed as a result of erosion from sequential events. The 1965 Northeast Blackout occurred after a breaker in Ontario overloaded, causing a domino effect of power grid shutdowns; a breaker was falsely marked as upgraded.

Credits: Engineering Disasters (01:45)

Credits: Engineering Disasters

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Engineering Disasters (Modern Marvels)

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From the Colossus of Rhodes and Egypt's pyramids to the Hoover Dam and the Space Shuttle, mankind has celebrated the work of engineers.

Length: 89 minutes

Item#: BVL205824

Copyright date: ©1999

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