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Stupid Engineering Mistakes 592

lee1 writes "Wired has bestowed on us a list of the ten worst engineering mistakes of all time. We have the St. Francis Dam designed by 'self-taught' engineer William Mulholland, which burst and wiped out several towns near LA; the Kansas City Hyatt walkway collapse; the DC-10, and more, but my favorite is the one I'd never heard of: a giant tank of molasses that ruptured in 1919 and sent 'waves of molasses up to 15 feet high' through Boston, killing 21."
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Stupid Engineering Mistakes

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  • by yagu ( 721525 ) * <> on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:44PM (#15449740) Journal

    The Kansas City Hyatt was a disaster, but it wasn't because of bad design, but actually, "Construction issues led to a subtle but flawed design change that doubled the load on the connection between the fourth floor walkway support beams and the rods carrying the weight of the second floor walkway. This new design could barely handle the dead load weight of the structure itself, much less the weight of the spectators standing on it []". The original design would have been safe but what seemed an innocuous change completely changed the dynamics of load bearing, a result easily derived by any first year physics student.

    Also, while a "top ten" list is always subjective, I think it'd be instructive to at least include Galloping Gertie [] as honorable mention, another design which had been identified as flawed. This Tacoma Narrows suspension bridge began swaying wildly as it set up its own harmonic resonance in a typical Puget Sound winter wind storm and eventually ripped apart and collapsed into the Sound. Interestingly the original Galloping Gertie could and would have sustained the fatal winds by strategically placed holes in the beams.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      "much less the weight of the spectators standing on it"."

      The History Channel had some coverage on their Modern Marvels series I think of this incident. Besides what you mentioned, the most damning was those inspectors did something like a 10 minute inspection...for the whole hotel, walkway inclusive.

      The inspectors didn't do their job. This is much less about blaming one person or body, but usually these disasters had a whole sequence of things ignored that in cumulative resulted in disaster.

      Case in point
      • Yeah, Mulholland took a lot of crap on the disaster but was ultimately (mostly) cleared by most historians, geologists and engineers I've heard. At the time, they lacked the knowledge and equipment to know of the true nature of the rock in San Francesquito canyon.

        Say what you will about the guy, but he came up from being a ditch digger to chief engineer of DWP, you don't see that kind of stuff anymore.

        I grew up very near the St. Francis dam disaster, we used to hang out on old giant slabs of concrete

    • >>what seemed an innocuous change completely changed the dynamics of load bearing.

      I studied _ART_ in college and I spotted the flaw a mile away.

      The specs called for two "C" shaped beams to hug a metal rod as so - ]|[

      They were assembled like this - [|]

      You have _much_ more strength when all vertical peices are touching, relying on the compression strength of the steel. They were assembled more like a rod going through a box. Now you have your force on horizonal portions of the beam. A little bit of bend
      • by Anonymous Coward
        That was not the critical flaw. The original design and the implementation used box beams. The implementation failed because the lower levels were attached to the top bridge, not directly to the rod as designed, thereby increasing the weight that pulled on the joint between the top bridge and the rod. The WP article explains it quite nicely and has pictures.
      • by AaronPSU777 ( 938553 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @09:22PM (#15450379)
        "I studied _ART_ in college and I spotted the flaw a mile away."

        Yes it shows that you studied art and not engineering. We actually studied this failure in one of my classes. The poorly welded box beams probably contributed to the failure but the much larger flaw was changing the support from one in which the box beams would only be supporting the weight of one floor to one in which they would be supporting the weight of all the floors. As I recall a junior engineer approved the change without consulting with more experienced engineers. The construction crew is not at fault because they built the structure according to approved plans and field changes.
        • by ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @10:48PM (#15450811)
          As I recall a junior engineer approved the change without consulting with more experienced engineers.

          How'd you like to be that guy.
        • Correct... (Score:5, Informative)

          by Gadgetfreak ( 97865 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @11:11PM (#15450919)
          I have a MechEng/ Materials dual degree, and one of my later courses was actually a "Metal Failures" course, dedicated to this kind of stuff. Most of it was more complicated. My professor was actually a retired PhD who worked on investigative teams that evaluated accidents like these, and acted as the 'expert witness' for technical information in many cour cases.

          We studied this case, as well as many on the list above, in detail. In particular, the box beams in question ran horizontally to support the walkway, while the vertical rod was the support for the end of the box beams. The beams could have been made better, but they were good enough for their design loads.

          The problem was that the original design called for one continuous vertical rod, with several levels of walkway hanging from it at different heights. However, due to construction issues, the installation was changed (for the worse) so that separate vertical rods were used. This unfortunately got written approval, and shouldn't have. Instead of the successive loads being applied to the rod, the box beam was then holding the weight of all the floors below it, which it was not designed to do.

          Imagine one rope hanging from a ceiling, with 3 people hanging at various heights on the rope. The rope can hold the total weight of the 3 people easily, but each climber needs only enough grip to hold up his own weight. Now imagine due to "construction issues" you can't get one long rope, so you get 2 shorter lengths. Ideally, you'd tie the ropes together to create a nearly identical scenario, but in this case, it's like they tied the bottom rope to the middle guy's ankle, and expected him to hold on with the added weight of the guy below him.

          Unfortunately, it was just strong enough to hold a few people, but let go when it was fully loaded.

      • The specs called for two "C" shaped beams to hug a metal rod as so - ]|[

        They were assembled like this - [|]

        No; that was true of both the original and the assembled plans. What failed was (a) the original plan could not be put together as designed and (b) the suggested change seemed innocuous to the guy on-site.

        The plans were for one rod to carry the weight from the ceiling through to all the walkways, being threaded at each level and bolted on. Problem was, you can't fit a threaded rod through a

    • by Jherek Carnelian ( 831679 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:27PM (#15450033)
      Forget the Hyatt - look at the Sampoong Department Store collapse. [] In Seoul in the summer of 1995 over 500 people were killed. No surprise - it was due to a combination of last minute changes (that the original construction firm refused to make) and a general abrogation of responsibility all around (building inspectors were bribed, etc).
    • Tacoma Narrows (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Reverberant ( 303566 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:42PM (#15450124) Homepage
      ...but I thought "Bridges Are Easy []"....
    • "The original design would have been safe but what seemed an innocuous change completely changed the dynamics of load bearing"

      While the original design may have been safe in theory, it was unbuildable. The supporting rods would have needed to be threaded for their entire lower half (which wasn't in the original design) in order for the loadbearing nuts for the higher walkway to be put in place. And that threading would have been damaged to the point of uselessness when the top walkway was raised into place.
    • by Fortran IV ( 737299 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @09:40PM (#15450475) Journal
      An incident I particularly remember involving building design was back in the early 80's, in Canada I believe. The architect designed a large circular building (a convention center or hotel, I disremember which) with a domed roof. Somebody later decided the edge of the domed roof was a great place for a jogging track, without studying the wind patterns the roof created. After the building was opened, with its unplanned addition, several people were blown off the track to their deaths.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 01, 2006 @11:58PM (#15451203)
      The Tacoma Narrows bridge didn't fail due to resonance.

      Read that first line again.

      It was not resonance, your first year, second year, calculus, dynamics and control systems books all lied to you. Lied. Not truthful. Not correct.
      Read: K. Billah and R. Scanlan, "Resonance, Tacoma Narrows Bridge Failure, and Undergraduate Physics, Textbooks;" American Journal of Physics, 1991.

      It was not a time dependant thing, therefore, not resonance. The bridge was shaking NOWHERE near its resonant frequencies. The motion of the bridge actually induced "negative damping" . That would sort of be like pulling your parachute and having it drag you to the ground faster and faster as you gain speed. Sounds weird, but totally true. They show in that paper that the bridge under the wind loading becomes a self excited structure and, at a critical wind speed, the eigenvalues of the bridge stucture change sign, causing the bridge to enter an exponentially increasing vibrational state, eventually breaking the bridge down.

      I built a cool model of the Tacoma narrows bridge, with controllable air flow, and reproduced this behavior for a college course in experimental design. It was neat to visually watch eigenvalues change in an experiment.

      Oh the physics of pulling wool over eyes is so fun. BTW, that "doubling the loading that any physics student could understand" bit in the other posts. Right. Most physics students can't tell you if the box slips downhill or uphill using a free body diagram. Give me a break.
    • The design itself was flawed. Not structurally, but there was almost no way to actually build the thing as designed -- with a threaded section (for the support nut) in the middle of a 30(?) foot shaft. (Think about it -- for that to work, the threads have to be wider than the shaft.) Petroski discusses this (along with the rest of the disaster) in his book "To Engineer Is Human".

      If you're going to design something that's hard to make -- and thus tempt the builders to take shortcuts -- you'd better darn we
  • by setirw ( 854029 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:46PM (#15449752) Homepage
    I don't consider disasters as consequences of poor engineering to be especially funny.
  • Three Gorges Damn (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ackthpt ( 218170 ) * on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:47PM (#15449758) Homepage Journal
    It's waiting to happen.

    Built on national pride, it's become the world's largest albatross.

  • by Kesch ( 943326 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:49PM (#15449767)
    A common theme in half of these is that a small change was made at the last minute.

    Lesson of Life: Trust the engineers, they do stuff for a reason

    Of course the other half were just poor engineering

    Lesson of Life: Never trust the engineers
    • Actually, if you look at those things, the real common theme was that they were designed or modified by people who _weren't_ real engineers. E.g.:

      - a dam is built by a "self-taught engineer" who can't even get the foundations right

      - a ship design is modified by a king who has no flippin' clue about ship design. He demanded changes like cutting extra portholes right above the water line, loading extra guns and other stuff, and so on. The final design was basically the king's, not the design of a real shipwri
  • 15 feet high? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ant P. ( 974313 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:50PM (#15449769) Homepage
    What on earth were they planning on doing with such a huge stockpile of molasses?!
  • by dpreformer ( 32338 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:51PM (#15449780)
    21 people couldn't avoid the flow of molasses? This seems very strange seeing that molasses is the canonical viscous fluid - slow as molasses in January. 15 foot amplitude, gotta wonder at the wavelength crest to crest...

    • by aGuyNamedJoe ( 317081 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:08PM (#15449911)
      "Slow as molasses in January" is particularly apt (and probably related) as the incident happened on January 15. It's not as slow as you might think -- 35 mph... according to Wikipedia: ter []

    • by ckswift ( 700993 ) * on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:08PM (#15449919)
      Actually according to Wikipedia [] the molasses flowed at 35mph exerting a pressure of 200 kPa.
      At 529 Commercial Street, a huge molasses tank (50 ft (15 m) tall, 240 ft (70 m) around and containing as much as 2.5 million US gallons (9,500 m or 9,500,000 litres)) collapsed. The collapse unleashed an immense wave of molasses between 8 and 15 ft (2.5 to 4.5 m) high, moving at 35 mph (60 km/h) and exerting a pressure of 2 ton/ft (200 kPa). The molasses wave was of sufficient force to break the girders of the adjacent Boston Elevated Railway's Atlantic Avenue Elevated structure and lift a train off the tracks. Several nearby buildings were also destroyed, and several blocks were flooded to a depth of 2 to 3 feet. Twenty-one people were killed and 150 injured as the molasses crushed and asphyxiated many of the victims. Rescuers found it difficult to make their way through the syrup to help the victims.
      • by krunk4ever ( 856261 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @10:11PM (#15450645) Homepage
        the conversions are quite hilarious in Wikipedia:

        A large molasses (treacle) tank burst and a wave of molasses ran through the streets at an estimated 35 MPH (56 km/h), killing twenty-one and injuring 150 others.

        The collapse unleashed an immense wave of molasses between 8 and 15 ft (2.5 to 4.5 m) high, moving at 35 mph (60 km/h) and exerting a pressure of 2 ton/ft (200 kPa).

        Google calculator shows:
        35 miles = 56.32704 kilometers
  • They forgot the most important one, the one that's screwed the most people by far.

  • No Asian disasters? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dorpus ( 636554 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:52PM (#15449786)
    Osaka built the world's first sports stadium with a movable roof, which malfunctioned shortly after inception, and the company that made it went bankrupt. The roof has been stuck for the past 5 years. Incidentally, the stadium was built on rubbery landfill, so whenever audiences jump up and down during rock concerts, it causes earthquakes in the neighborhood. Osaka also built a new airport on an artificial island that is sinking into the sea, so it may become the world's first underwater airport. Seoul has had various engineering disasters also, including a department store that collapsed and killed hundreds of wealthy housewives.
    • by S.O.B. ( 136083 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:20PM (#15449985)
      The Toronto Skydome beat them by 8 years.

      • The Toronto Skydome beat them by 8 years.

        And Montreal's Olympic Stadium by at least 5 more years. But the important point (as a former SkyDome employee) is that SkyDome was the first retractable roof stadium *which actually worked*.

      • by paeanblack ( 191171 ) on Friday June 02, 2006 @02:55AM (#15451831)
        The Toronto Skydome beat them by 8 years.

        The Romans beat you by almost 2000 years. The Flavian Amphitheater had a retractable roof.
        • by S.O.B. ( 136083 )
          Not to be picky (OK, I'm being picky) but the "velarium" imployed in the Colosseum (aka Flavian Amphitheater) was not a roof but a type of awning. It did provide protection for all the spectators but only covered 2/3 of the Colosseum. If the roof of your house only covered 2/3 of the interior it wouldn't be a very good roof would it?
  • I am among a group of individuals who insist that if you walk through the North End of Boston on a hot late summer's day, you can still get a whiff of the sweet scent of molasses. If you are in the North End in August, see (smell?) for yourself.

    BTW, I noticed the smell BEFORE I heard about this disaster.
  • from wikipedia []:
    A famous incident involving molasses was the Boston Molasses Disaster on January 15, 1919, in which a large molasses storage tank burst and flooded a neighborhood of Boston, killing 21 and injuring 150.
  • by winkydink ( 650484 ) * <> on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:56PM (#15449823) Homepage Journal
    about engineering disasters, "To Engineer Is Humnan: The Role of Failure in Successful Design". It's worth picking up a copy from amazon/abebooks/etc...
    The moral of this book is that behind every great engineering success is a trail of often ignored (but frequently spectacular) engineering failures. Petroski covers many of the best known examples of well-intentioned but ultimately failed design in action -- the galloping Tacoma Narrows Bridge (which you've probably seen tossing cars willy-nilly in the famous black-and-white footage), the collapse of the Kansas City Hyatt Regency Hotel walkways -- and many lesser known but equally informative examples. The line of reasoning Petroski develops in this book were later formalized into his quasi-Darwinian model of technological evolution in The Evolution of Useful Things, but this book is arguably the more illuminating -- and defintely the more enjoyable -- of these two titles. Highly recommended.
  • by plasmacutter ( 901737 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:58PM (#15449831)
    this disaster [] involved a couple morons on a drilling rig in a lake forgetting to carry the two, hitting a mineshaft, and draining the whole lake and part of the gulf of mexico into the mine, along with several ships, etc etc.
  • by PPGMD ( 679725 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:58PM (#15449838) Journal
    The problems with the DC-10 are minor considering some of the issues other aircraft in the past, only two accidents can be pointed directly two engineering defects of the aircraft, the first is the Turkish Air 981 and United 232. Other then those two accidents the DC-10 has had a safety record that is about average for most airliners to date.

    And even those accidents the safety defects were quite minor, nothing major that one could claim that it was poorly engineered. Outward opening doors have been used on all aircraft, Douglas was the first one to make one as a baggage door for a production airliner, improper servicing lead to issues with the locks and finally two accidents, the final resulting in a bulkhead failing that sliced the control cables.

    United 232 was a result of a failure of imagination, no one imagined that there would be a failure that massive that would severe all there hydraulic lines, even though they weren't placed next to each other (just near each other as they would have be as they have to run to similar areas of the aircraft). The engineer that designed it probably reasoned, that any failure that would result in all three being severed would be large enough that the aircraft would be lost.

    • "The engineer that designed it probably reasoned, that any failure that would result in all three being severed would be large enough that the aircraft would be lost."

      I guess that was a self-fulfilling prophesy, huh?
  • Lake Peigneur (Score:5, Interesting)

    by HockeyPuck ( 141947 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:59PM (#15449846) []

    Basically, an oil rig, drilling in the middle of the lake, punctured a mineshaft below the lake (mining for salt). The end result was the entire lake draining into the mine below it. Fortunately, nobody was hurt.

    From: o.html/ []

    The water of Lake Peigneur slowly started to turn, eventually forming a giant whirlpool. A large crater developed in the bottom of the lake. It was like someone pulled the stopper out of the bottom of a giant bathtub.

    The crater grew larger and larger (it would eventually reach sixty yards in diameter). The water went down the hole faster and faster. The lake had been connected by the Delcambre Canal to the Gulf of Mexico, some twelve miles away. The ever-emptying lake caused the canal to lower by 3.5 feet and to start flowing in reverse. A fifty foot waterfall (the highest ever to exist in the state) formed where the canal water emptied into the crater.

    The whirlpool easily sucked up the $5 million Texaco drilling platform, a second drilling rig that was nearby, a tugboat, eleven barges from the canal, a barge loading dock, seventy acres of Jefferson Island and its botanical gardens, parts of greenhouses, a house trailer, trucks, tractors, a parking lot, tons of mud, trees, and who knows what else. A natural gas fire broke out where the Texaco well was being drilled. Let's not forget the estimated 1.5 billion gallons of water that seemed to magically drain down the hole (does the Coriolis effect come into play here?). Of course, there was the great threat of environmental and economical catastrophe.
    • (does the Coriolis effect come into play here?)

      Not enough to matter.

      The dominant source of angular momentum in the water of a lake will be the currents from the entry to the exit channels, which will have some offset from dead-on toward each other and the center of the lake, along with the other currents (such as half-lake-sized eddies) they cause. The momentum from the earth's rotation will be orders of magnitude down.
  • I'd have thought that'd be pretty high on any such list, no? Flawed design from the control rods to the containment vessel, leading to the worlds biggest nuclear accident?
  • by burnttoy ( 754394 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:00PM (#15449859) Homepage Journal
    In 1814 in in London town,
    a flood of beer came to drown. ht=& []
  • Number 3, the Vasa (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PCM2 ( 4486 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:01PM (#15449862) Homepage
    The description doesn't really do this one justice:
    Three hundred years before the Titanic, the Vasa was the biggest sailing vessel of its day. The overloaded ship ruled the seas for all of a mile before she took on water through her too-low gun ports and promptly capsized.
    "Overloaded" isn't really the right description. It makes you think the thing was full of too much cargo. That's not really it. If you look at the castle on the stern of the ship, it is literally covered with hundreds of carvings of heraldry, kings, gryphons, and all kinds of what-not. The thing must weigh tons, much of it in this kind of unnecessary adornment. Then, if you examine the hull, its dimensions and overall height, it seems plain that it just wasn't seaworthy. Pretty much one good strong gust of wind capsized it, and to look at it you can easily see why.

    I can't quite remember, but I seem to recall that the records are scanty on this point -- it may be that the designers of the ship just didn't have the expertise and understanding of buoyancy of later shipwrights, or it may be that there was some kind of kickbacks or other shenanigans that interfered with the building and compromised the design.

    When I say "if you look at the ship," though, I am being literal -- because you can. The really interesting thing about the Vasa is that it sank not far from Stockholm harbor, in waters that had a unique mineral consistency. Unlike other parts of the world, for whatever reason the waters in this area were particularly unfavorable to the shipworm. Normally a wooden ship like the Vasa would be eaten up. The Vasa, however, was merely covered with silt at the bottom of the bay, where it lay for hundreds of years.

    Eventually -- and again, memory fails me but I believe it was sometime around the 1970s -- the location of the Vasa was discovered and work began to bring it to the surface. Today the entire ship is on display in a museum in Stockholm. The museum building was actually built up around the ship itself. A lot of repair and preservation work had to be done, including plastination of the wood, but it is mostly intact except for the original painting. You can't go onboard, but you can walk around it and view the hull from all sides. It is literally the closest you'll ever get to a 17th century wood-hull sailing vessel -- about five meters away. They've also built a facsimile of the interior decks that you can walk through -- if walking is the word. (Let's just say they made people smaller in those days.)

    The museum has salvaged all kinds of other goodies from the ship as well, from cannon to tools to even the bodies of some of the original sailors, all of which are on display. If you get the chance you should check it out -- if you're at all into things nautical, it's a one-of-a-kind experience.

    • by maggard ( 5579 ) <> on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:37PM (#15450089) Homepage Journal
      First off these ships had three functions:

      1. Impress the locals by being the biggest / baddest / most impressive thing they'd ever seen, and leave them not wanting to mess with Sweden!

      2. Host dignitaries & high-ranking hostages during negotiations, thus their VIP-level amenities.

      3. Actually fight (& win) battles.

      Now, back in the day good wood carvers were relatively cheap, so hiring a crew to gussy your ship up was, all things considered, pocket change. Think of it as the 1%-for-art stipulation that is built into many civic construction projects today. The result was your ship looked shu-weet, and so when it sailed into port everyone noticed, and talked, and generally got your nation some good press.

      By the way, that's still a big deal in navel circles, visiting ports and showing the flag. These vessels have to do something, keep in training, and so doing diplomatic/PR duty is as good as many other things. Part of that is looking the part - now we go for angular grey steel & exotic weaponry, back then it was "I can afford to pimp-out-my-ship" gilding.

      As to the decoration being heavy, the whole freakin' ship was "heavy", a layer of pretty painted bits was about negligible in effect.

      Finally, your considered expert opinion on historical wooden sailing ships aside, the hull was perfectly fine for it's needs. Yes most i^Hg^Hn^Ho^Hr^Ha^Hn^Ht^H unsophisticated folks look at these ships and wonder "however did they stay upright" but they did. Much of the misapprehension comes from not understanding the weight distribution on these craft, the rest comes from not respecting the skills of it's sailors.

      And, as has been doubtless pointed out several times already, the ship sank due to late-added lower gunports that were left open and effectively scuppered them.

    • by Wudbaer ( 48473 )
      I think that besides the overload with woodworks another big design problem was that the king insisted on the ship carrying three rows of cannons. Two apparently was the standard back then, but the king wanted the most impressive, most bad-ass ship in the entire Baltic Sea, so it had to be three. "What do you mean "Nobody did this before" ? So you do now !" "Well, uhmm... ok Sire !". So they added the third row of cannons, and that apparently as an afterthought and not as part of the original design. Sea-wo
    • Vasa had a complement of 445, of whom it is not clear how many were lost. The HMS Royal George [], however, sank just off Spithead on August 29, 1782 in very similar circumstances to the Vasa with the loss of eight hundred, including an admiral of the fleet. An inquest concluded that her loss was due to structural failure. This was one of the worst marittime disasters of all time, and I'm surprised that the loss of the Vasa, and not of the Royal George, is on the list.
    • I can't quite remember, but I seem to recall that the records are scanty on this point -- it may be that the designers of the ship just didn't have the expertise and understanding of buoyancy of later shipwrights, or it may be that there was some kind of kickbacks or other shenanigans that interfered with the building and compromised the design.

      A major factor was that the king ordered another row of cannons added to the design to increase firepower and make it look more impressive. They did do stability tes
  • by jjeffries ( 17675 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:02PM (#15449870)
    err... Tacoma Narrows Bridge []?

    This one isn't quite on topic, but it keeps with the mood... Lake Peigneur: The Swirling Vortex of Doom []

  • by linguae ( 763922 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:03PM (#15449879)

    When I think of engineering mistakes, the Cypress [] Freeway [] comes to mind. A double-decker freeway built on soil that isn't solid in an earthquake-prone area is a disaster waiting to happen.

    The former double-decker section of 880 has since been replaced with a new, single decker structure a bit to the west of the original alignment. The cost [] of that new, short freeway section was $1.13 billion dollars, more expensive than the costs of LA's Century Freeway (105), IIRC.

  • From the way things play out, I presume it really means the ten worst reported in the US in the last two centuries. It doesn't even mention the disaster in Japan a few years ago where an entire mega-mall collapsed because they forgot to increase the gague of the beams for the parking level after tweaking the design for the upper levels. I'm pretty sure there were probably some major engineering disasters in building early pyramids and ziggarauts too, not to mention the Roman buildings that didn't survive through the ages.
  • by WidescreenFreak ( 830043 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:06PM (#15449898) Homepage Journal
    I agree with a poster above that this shouldn't be listed under "funny" as all of those mistakes cost well over 1,000 people their lives, if I remember the article correctly. But it seemed to focus on the fact that people's lives were lost in just about all of those. I would have placed a number of other engineering mistakes in that list just because of the nature of the mistake.

    For example, the bridge (the name of which I can't remember) from the early part of the 20th century that bent and twisted under high wind until it finally just fell apart. Loss of life? I don't believe so, but it was a spectacular destruction.

    The Johnstown Flood, perhaps? A lot of people were killed in that flood, and it was caused by engineering of a sort. The dam itself seemed to be stable until a lot of critical components, such as iron rods, were replaced with such highly stable components as dirt and manure, at least according to various web sites and documentaries. Sure, that wasn't a fault of the original design, but the "remodeling" is most likely a very important factor that resulted in the deaths of over 2,200 people.

    I found it particularly interesting that the article mentioned how something happened 200 years before Titanic then failed to mention the Titanic itself. Based on the documentaries I've seen, the bolts that were used to hold the steel plates together were cheaply made and severely weakened under the frigid water of the north Atlantic. That was an engineering/design flaw from the beginning.

    New Orleans. Oh, yeah! Let's design and build a city with an ocean on one side and a lake on the other and - here's the clincher - we'll make it below sea level! Yeah, baby! Party on! Enough said.

    Seriously. I don't know what criteria this person used for the "worst" engineering mistakes, but it's clear to me at least that he really doesn't know what the hell he's talking about.
  • by techno-vampire ( 666512 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:08PM (#15449921) Homepage
    Not only did Mullholland build that dam that collapsed, he also built the Los Angeles Aquaduct, that's still bringing water down from the North to supply the city's needs. He's also remembered by Mullholland Drive, along the Santa Monica Mountains. I don't know if he built it, but I do know it was named after him.
    • Not only did Mullholland build that dam that collapsed, he also built the Los Angeles Aquaduct

      Old Man: "Lad, look out there to the field. Do ya see that fence? Look how well it's built. I built that fence stone by stone with me own two hands. Piled it for months. But do they call me McGregor-the-Fence-Builder? Nooo.."

      Then the old man gestured at the bar.

      "Look here at the bar. Do ya see how smooth and just it is? I planed that surface down by me own achin' back. I carved that wood with me own hard lab

  • I have a few... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:24PM (#15450009) Homepage
    Dodge caravan - Engineers were on serious drugs designing that transmission and engine bay.

    Pontiac Grand AM 1997-2006 - I want to personally kill the engineer that designed that engine cooling system.

    All Delco car radio products 1990-2006 - Those engineers need to be beaten hard with the product they made. Any car that can lose functionality or even not run when you remove the factory radio was designed by a retarted engineer.

    I can go on for days just on recent automotive designs and building techniques. Automotive engineers are the most hated on the planet lately because of the incredibly stupid designs they continue to come up with.

    And they have done it for decades, Oldmosbile Quad 4 engine, instead of making the engine balanced we put in a harmonic balancer that runs at 4X the engine RPM's.. but not use a system that can handle the incredible RPM's or make sure it stays oiled.

  • Therac-25 (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MBCook ( 132727 ) <> on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:29PM (#15450045) Homepage
    How can you run a list like this without the Therac-25 [] machine listed? That was a SERIOUS disaster. Very, VERY scary incident.

    And really, the humor section? I know being killed by a flood of molasses is novel, how is having a walkway full of people falling on your head funny?

  • by Cordath ( 581672 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:41PM (#15450117)
    "4. Northeastern US power grid, 1965
    A single protective relay tripped in Ontario, overloading nearby circuits and causing a cascade of outages that left 30 million homes without power for up to 13 hours. A fragile, redundancy-free design ensured that it would happen eventually. After decades of repairs and upgrades, it happened again in 2003."

    Although this point implies that the 2003 outage originated in Ontario as well, a joint U.S. and Canadian investigation found that it originated in Ohio due to several failures of FirstEnergy corporation, among them the failure to keep trees near high voltage power lines adequately trimmed! When the Eastlake generating plant in Ohio went offline during a period of high demand, other high voltage power lines in the area experienced increased demand to pick up the slack. The increased current across these HV lines caused them to sag and short-out when they came into contact with said trees. HV lines heat up and sag as current increases, and this is accounted for in both their design and in guidelines for keeping trees near HV power lines trimmed, which were apparently not adhered to by FirstEnergy.

    This wasn't the only thing that FirstEnergy did wrong however. In total, they were found to be in violation of *seven* NERC standards. Although more reliability and redundancy could be built into the North American power grid, blaming the 2003 outage on poor engineering is not accurate. It was FirstEnergy's failure to adhere to standards that precipitated the cascade failure. As such, it would be more accurate to blame greedy corporate management that was too cheap to shell out adequate funds for operation.

    For more on this, check out the report found here: []
  • I call Bullshit (Score:3, Interesting)

    by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @09:15PM (#15450335)
    The molasses flood was not an engineering mistake. The basic design of the structure was ok, the disaster is believed to be most likely to been have caused by shoddy contruction techniques and/or overfilling plus pressure buildup due to fermentation of the molasses in the tank.

  • by sl4shd0rk ( 755837 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @09:19PM (#15450362)
    How may gave their asses to fill that giant tank?
  • by DragonHawk ( 21256 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @09:25PM (#15450401) Homepage Journal
    No discussion of engineering disasters is complete without mention of PEPCON. First, build a factory 10 miles from Las Vegas. Use it to manufacture ammonium perchlorate -- a component of rocket fuel. Store the stuff in aluminum containers. BTW, aluminum is the other component for the rocket fuel. Then start welding nearby. Oh, and make sure you put the factory on top of a gas main. []

    There's some great footage of it here: []

    You'll never see a better demonstration of speed-of-sound vs speed-of-light. You see massive explosions and shockwaves (taking out trees and cars) several seconds before you hear them.
    • by Danny Rathjens ( 8471 ) <<gro.snejhtar> <ta> <2todhsals>> on Friday June 02, 2006 @03:19AM (#15451913)
      I can understand not reading articles other people post due to laziness. But you have taken it to a whole new level by not reading an article you are telling us about and embellishing extra details to make the mistakes seem worse than they were. Congratulations. :)
      The storage drums were plastic.

      And wow, one of the two who died was in a wheelchair. Those folks must have some serious survivor's guilt for not helping that guy when they all ran and drove away.

  • R-101 versus R-100 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Fortran IV ( 737299 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @09:35PM (#15450448) Journal
    The truly sad aspect of the R-101 disaster is not that it crashed, but that the crash utterly killed any chance that the R-101's sister airship, the R-100 [], would gain public acceptance.

    The two ships were built simultaneously, to the same set of government design specifications. The R-101 was designed by government engineers with an effectively unlimited budget, and no penalties for failing to meet specifications. Because a government agency was building it, the press were treated to frequent and highly colored bulletins about the R-101.

    The R-100 was designed by a private firm, under a strict budget, with limited access to design information about the R-101. It was built with much less publicity and launched with no fanfare at all.

    The R-100 made a successful trans-Atlantic test flight, was several knots faster than the specification called for, was highly maneuverable, and had a considerable payload capacity. It performed almost flawlessly, and was fairly economical to operate. (The Wikipedia article makes a bit much of the R-100's problems, such as the tail cone collapse; the engineers decided that the tail cone was unnecessary.)

    The R-101 was grossly oversized and overweight, poorly stressed, and had been lengthened by some yards at the eleventh hour. Because of pressure to outperform the R-100, it was sent on an intercontinental flight before its local flight tests (which would probably have revealed its weaknesses) were completed. When it crashed, it took with it any chance that the R-100 would be followed up, even though the R-100 was a nearly unqualified success (for a prototype, anyway).

    Dig up a copy of Nevil Shute's Slide Rule for an entertaining and sometimes harrowing account of the two rival airships.
  • by cmacb ( 547347 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @10:41PM (#15450776) Homepage Journal
    ... the Windows Registry isn't on that list.

    I guess that would be on the SOFTWARE engineering list.
  • []

    The citgroup building in manhattan. It was well desigend to the standard enginnering principles by its architecht/engineer William LeMessurier. Shortly after its construction, he got a call from a student who asked him about a different type of wind shear, and he assured the student the building was bult to withstand all winds up to like 130mph. After a little thought, he ran the numbers again as the student brought up, and realized that a hurricane might take out the building, and cause a domino effect that would take out most of manhatten. This man actually stepped up and told the buildings owners about the problem, and came up with a plan to fix it. This story seriously restored my faith in humanity, and he is one of the great unknown heroes of our age. All he had to do was keep his mouth shut, and no one could have faulted him, he did everything right. But he still stepped up and said "theres a problem with what i did...."
    This is one of the best examples of ethics i have ever seen.
  • A few quibbles (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ancient_Hacker ( 751168 ) on Friday June 02, 2006 @07:32AM (#15452582)
    A few quibbles with their choices:
    • The DC-10 did have some design issues with the cargo door. But two of the big crashes were NOT due to engineering errors. The engine falling off at Chicago was due to using a dang forklift to remove the engines, which cracked the support structure. The crash in Iowa was due to a rare metallurgical problem with the engine compressor disk. Neither one was an explicit engineering error.
    • The walkway collapse was more a case of poor design review. The original design had ONE rod supporting all the walkways. Nobody realized that there's NO WAY to build that! You can't thread a 60-foot rod through all those walkway beams, not when the building roof is in place. The multi-rod redesign was obviously not reviewed properly.
  • by airship ( 242862 ) on Friday June 02, 2006 @10:45AM (#15453937) Homepage
    the Boston Molassacre?

Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed. -- Neil Armstrong