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10 Tragic Engineering Disasters. by Taamas222 (f): 5:43pm on May 15
Junior Taamas
, Nigeria.
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Engineers are one of the most important
behind-the-scenes groups of people, and
most of us just take them and their work
for granted. The truth is that there can
only be so many designers, and the vast
majority of engineers do the
unglamorous, but no less important
work, of building, testing, and improving
things for safety to make sure nobody
gets hurt and no one has to pay for large
amounts of property damages. However,
when you don’t hire enough skilled
engineers to properly focus on safety,
and do that all-important work that they
do, you can end up with examples like
the 10 tragic events in today’s list.

10. The Deepwater Horizon Disaster Gushed 130 Million Tons Of Oil Into The Ocean

Back in 2010, BP’s Deepwater oil rig,
operated by the Switzerland based
company Transocean Ltd., suffered a
massive blowout, and the world watched
in shock and horror. Eleven people died
and 17 were injured in the initial
blowout, and immediately people wanted
to know how it had happened. But soon,
something even more important became
apparent: Due to the fact that the well
was 35,055 feet under water, which was
far deeper than any well in existence
(and the only one that was in truly deep
water), the oil that started leaking out
quickly became a huge concern.

For years BP and Transocean had
contended to regulators that their oil rig
was fine because they were prepared for
cleanup, but all they had were the same
techniques that worked in shallow water.

No company, BP or otherwise, had any
real plan for how to stop a gushing oil
leak coming out of the ocean floor in
actually deep water. BP took 87 days
before they managed to plug the leak,
and during that time an estimated 130
million gallons of oil leaked into the Gulf
of Mexico, with the Audubon Society
estimating a good one million birds and
other marine life were killed by the spill.

As for how it all occurred, it turned out
there wasn’t a single reason the oil rig
suffered a blowout. It was caused by
multiple failures that could have been
prevented in time if not for lax
regulators, and a lax company culture
from both BP and Transocean Ltd.

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Rufai Oladimeji
Lagos State University
100Level, Nigeria.
9. Earthquakes May Have Damaged The Fukushima Reactors Long Before The Tsunami

Most people know that that there was a
meltdown at the Fukushima-Daiichi
Nuclear Power Plant after a tsunami
several years back, but many don’t know
the official story — or at least what
some suspect is the true cause. The
official story is that an earthquake
knocked out the power to the plant, but
apart from that it left the plant largely
unharmed and functioning just fine. In
fact, according to this official story, the
plant only failed when the tsunami came
along and destroyed their backup
generators, after which the plant’s
cooling system stopped working and the
meltdown occurred.

However, investigative reporters who
interviewed workers that had been at the
plant when the earthquake occurred
offer a version of events that differs a
bit from that of the Japanese
government. Many of them claim they
saw significant damage to pipes, some of
which led to cooling systems for the
reactors. Others saw serious structural
damage or other issues and claim they
were already told to evacuate because of
oxygen tanks exploding and pipes
bursting well before the tsunami hit.
Then, as they were leaving, the tsunami
warning came and they had to go to the
top of the building to wait to be rescued.

While the government version of the
events calls into question the safety of a
reactor near the coast (due to the
possibility of a tsunami), the second
version of events calls into question any
reactor of a similar design that is in any
kind of earthquake zone at all.
10 Tragic Engineering Disasters - Books/Literature/Writing

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Rufai Oladimeji
Lagos State University
100Level, Nigeria.
8. The Challenger Disaster Was Caused By An O-Ring, But Only Because Of Poor Decisions

On January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle
Challenger was set to launch and it was
going to be a truly epic affair. A
schoolteacher had been chosen to join
the six astronauts, in order to show that
even normal civilians could go into
space, and children around the country
were watching the launch from their
classrooms on that cold Tuesday
morning. Unfortunately, the festive
atmosphere soon turned tragic as the
shuttle exploded before reaching the
upper atmosphere, killing all seven
people aboard. The Secretary of the State
at the time, William P. Rogers, formed a
commission to find the root cause.

They quickly found that the technical
cause was a faulty o-ring. This small
piece of plastic helped form seals in
between the parts of the rocket
boosters, and doesn’t operate well in
cold — it tends to lose its elasticity. In
fact, the commission found that despite
knowing the o-ring didn’t function well
below 53 degrees, they went ahead with
the launch despite it being 36 degrees
outside that morning. The commission
found that there were concerns about
the o-ring, but that they never reached
the top of the chain of command. This is
believed to have been due to incredibly
poor communication, and that the top
brass was desperate to get the launch
done in time for Reagan’s State of the
Union, so they weren’t particularly
interested in learning about potential last
minute problems that would delay the
10 Tragic Engineering Disasters - Books/Literature/Writing

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Rufai Oladimeji
Lagos State University
100Level, Nigeria.
7. The Columbia Disaster Could Potentially Have Been Avoided As Well

The Columbia was a storied space shuttle
that had been flying for decades and was
set for its final mission. After many
delays, it took off with a crew of seven
on January 16, 2003. As the shuttle was
launching, a piece of foam insulation
broke off from the propellant tank and
hit the left wing. Engineers at NASA tried
to look at it with every camera angle
they could and see how bad the damage
was, but it was hard to make out. Now,
NASA’s top management was not
particularly concerned, as foam
insulation had broken off at three
launches in the past and hadn’t caused
any critical damage. However, some felt
that this time it might be critical, and
pushed to use satellites to get a closer

Unfortunately, no one took that look
during the Columbia’s two week mission,
partly because some of the top brass felt
there would be nothing they could do at
that point even if critical damage had
occurred. Then, on February 1, 2003,
the space shuttle reentered Earth’s
atmosphere and broke apart, killing all
aboard and scattering debris far into the
distance. The damage to the wing
allowed the heat from reentry — along
with the wind — to basically tear it
apart, and after that the rest of the
shuttle wasn’t far behind. While those in
charge had decided to do nothing while
the crew was in space, thinking nothing
could be done, they were wrong. Later
studies found that rescue, or even a
possible repair by spacewalk, could have
been done — NASA’s top management
just didn’t take the danger that seriously.
10 Tragic Engineering Disasters - Books/Literature/Writing

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Rufai Oladimeji
Lagos State University
100Level, Nigeria.
6. The Apollo One Fire Almost Put An Early End To US Ambitions To Fly To The Moon

On January 27, 1967, NASA was testing
their Apollo One command module, in
advance of attempting a potential flight
to the moon. There were three
astronauts aboard: Roger Chaffee, Ed
White, and Gus Grissom, and they were
bolted into the pressurized compartment
to begin the launch tests. While the tests
were not proceeding particularly well
and they were having technical issues,
things were not anything beyond
frustrating until the call of “Flames! ”
came over the communications
equipment from inside the command
module. The workers outside did
everything they could to get the door
open, but by the time they had, it was
too late and all three astronauts were
dead — the Apollo program was then
shelved for 18 months while the
situation was investigated.

The United States lost three pioneering
astronauts that day, but at least NASA
did learn something from the situation.
It turns out that a single spark from a
faulty piece of equipment had spread like
wildfire in the all-oxygen environment of
the cabin, and to make matters worse,
most of the material they were sitting on
and around was highly flammable. On
top of that, the highly secured door
usually took a good minute and a half to
open at the best of times, and with the
extra pressure in the air from the fire,
they just really didn’t have a chance.

While this should have been something
NASA accounted for to begin with, they
made future doors much quicker to
open, replaced the flammable materials,
and made the air an oxygen and nitrogen
mix that would not so easily spread fire
all over the place.
10 Tragic Engineering Disasters - Books/Literature/Writing

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Rufai Oladimeji
Lagos State University
100Level, Nigeria.
5. The Boeing 737 Max Crashes And Subsequent Scandal Are Harming Boeing’s Reputation

On October 29, 2018, Lion Air Flight 610
went down over the Java Sea carrying a
full load of passengers — 181 passengers
and eight crew members all perished.

Then, on March 10, 2019, Ethiopia
Airlines Flight 302 crashed and took 149
passengers and eight crew members with
it. While plane crashes are always
alarming, experts noticed that there were
similarities between the two crashes, and
that both involved the new Boeing 737
Max Jet.

The system that allegedly caused all the
trouble was called Maneuvering
Characteristics Augmentation Systems, or
MCAS for short. The system used two
sensors to determine the nose of the
planes’ so called “angle of attack” and
adjust it if it thinks it is necessary, even
if the pilot disagrees. On the Ethiopian
Airlines Flight 302, the black box showed
that the plane was dangerously changing
the angle of attack, and despite the pilot
and copilot’s constant and best efforts,
they could not prevent an uncontrollable

Boeing has been under fire because
regulators around the world allege the
system did not have enough redundancy
to spot malfunctions, that pilots were
not given proper knowledge of it (or
proper training for it), and that the
limited information they did give on how
to deal with a malfunction was used by
the pilot and copilot in the Ethiopian
Airlines crash and that it did not save
them. Due to the loss in reputation,
Boeing has had to scale back production
to 42 jets from 52 and the 737 Max
remains grounded worldwide until
Boeing satisfies people’s fears.
10 Tragic Engineering Disasters - Books/Literature/Writing

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Rufai Oladimeji
Lagos State University
100Level, Nigeria.
4. The Chernobyl Disaster Was Caused By A Poorly Done Safety Test And Inadequate Design

The Chernobyl disaster occured on April
26, 1986, when Soviet engineers were
doing a test on the number 4 reactor of
the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in
order to ascertain if the emergency
water pumps could be run on inertial
power. In order to prepare for their test,
they actually disabled the emergency
safety systems of the reactor the night
before. They also removed quite a few of
the control rods for the reactor as well,
which are used to control power output.

When their experiment didn’t work and
they started to worry about meltdown,
they reinserted all 200 control rods at
once, which turned out to be a fatal
mistake. The rods had graphite tips,
which when inserted under already
volatile circumstances caused a chemical
reaction that blew the concrete and steel
roof right off the reactor.

The disaster killed two people
immediately, and at least 28 workers
later succumbed to radiation poisoning.

The fallout is said to have poisoned
thousands and it led the entire world to
put a lot more thought and effort into
nuclear safety. The disaster was such a
gigantic blow to the Soviet Union that
Mikhail Gorbachev later lamented that it
may have been Chernobyl that truly led
to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
10 Tragic Engineering Disasters - Books/Literature/Writing

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Rufai Oladimeji
Lagos State University
100Level, Nigeria.
3. The Grenfell Tower Fire Highlighted The Possibility Of Future, Similar Tragedies

On June 14, 2017, a fire rapidly spread
through Grenfell Tower in West London.
By the time the smoke had cleared,
upwards of 80 people had died and
dozens more were injured. The tragedy
became global news and the entire world
looked on in horror, as we all watched
the building burn before our eyes. It was
quickly discovered that the reason the
fire was able to spread so rapidly was
due to a cladding on the outside of the
building, which was there both to spruce
up the design and also slightly increase
energy efficiency. Now, this cladding is
usually aluminium, and has some kind of
filler inside, and those fillers can be fire
retardant. Unfortunately, the filler in the
cladding at Grenfell tower was highly
flammable, and the fire quickly raced all
around the building.

After the tragedy, authorities in London
have now inspected a lot of buildings
that have cladding , and found that most
of them failed safety tests. This
highlights a serious public safety
concern, as it means there are many,
many more buildings at risk of simple
fires raging out of control.
10 Tragic Engineering Disasters - Books/Literature/Writing

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Rufai Oladimeji
Lagos State University
100Level, Nigeria.
2. The Hyatt Regency Hotel Walkway Collapse Killed 114 People And Injured Another 216

On July 17, 1981, there was a Tea Dance
at the Hyatt Regency Hotel In Kansas
City, and the ballroom was hosting about
1,600 people. The hotel had four floors,
and upper walkways that extended across
the main lobby area. The fourth floor
walkway was positioned above the
second floor walkway, and a couple
dozen or so people were watching the
dance from the walkways above the
lobby. Then, seemingly out of nowhere,
the fourth floor walkway collapsed on
top of the second floor walkway, which
then collapsed the whole pile onto the
dancing couples below.

The aftermath was utterly appalling and
rescue workers likened it to a war zone.
114 people were killed and 216 were
injured. Many of them were crushed in
half, and others were suffocated or dealt
with other awful injuries. Unsurprisingly,
an inquest into the matter occurred as
people wanted to know why such a
catastrophic failure would happen. The
issue was the second floor walkway had
originally been intended to be suspended
from the stronger ceiling supports, but
was instead suspended from the fourth
floor walkway. As for how such a bad
decision could be made, the change was
actually approved over the phone.
10 Tragic Engineering Disasters - Books/Literature/Writing

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Rufai Oladimeji
Lagos State University
100Level, Nigeria.
1. The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 Killed 21 People And Injured 150 More

If you haven’t heard of this tragic story
before, it’ll likely sound too bizarre to be
true. On January 15, 1919, a tank filled
with 2.3 million gallons of molasses
ruptured in Boston’s North End. The
stories say that its initial speed was 35
miles-per-hour, and that it reached a
wave of 25 feet high and 160 feet wide;
21 people were killed and at least 150
more were injured by the time all the
molasses had settled. Many who were
close to the explosion were simply
pulverized, and others drowned in the
goop as the kinetic forces dissipated and
it turned back into its highly viscous

Back in the day they were never really
sure what happened, but recent
investigations have discovered that the
tank was almost certainly just not
adequate for the job. It was too thin,
and while built to hold 2.5 million
gallons of liquids, it wasn’t designed for
a thicker liquid that might weigh more —
like molasses — and had even shown
signs of cracks that were ignored by the
owners and operators of the tank. Some
reports even say it was leaking so badly
before it burst that children would come
with cups to fill up from the cracks. It
just goes to show that sometimes, on
rare occasions, molasses actually flows
quickly in January.

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