Remembering the Kansas City skywalk collapse

The July 17, 1981 Hyatt Regency skywalk collapse killed 114 people and injured more than 200 others in Kansas City, Missouri.

It was an honor to wrap-up several months of research and reporting for a television news special last Friday on the 30th anniversary of the Kansas City Hyatt Regency hotel skywalk collapse.

I worked on the special for KCTV5, the Kansas City CBS affiliate.  It’s  where I once worked as a reporter and anchor.

Photo: Kansas City Star

The skywalk collapse was the worst structural failure in U.S. history.  On that July 17th evening 30 years ago, 114 men, women and children died.  Another  216 people were injured.

This KCTV news special,  reporting by the Kansas City Star, and a partnering City in Shock website by the Star and KCTV5 devoted to the skywalk collapse gave surviving victims of the disaster  an opportunity to heal further and come to terms with a tragedy that shocked an entire city.

Click below to see portions of the KCTV special.

Had not so many talented reporters, videographers, producers, editors and news managers worked so hard on this project, younger generations may never have known about or seen video of the night of the skywalk collapse.

More than 1,000 emergency responders worked the Hyatt Regency skywalk disaster on July 17, 1981. Photo: Kansas City Star

Historic videotape reports of that disaster night may not have been located, cataloged, digitized and saved for future generations.  A local television station and newspaper may never have had the opportunity to serve its community and viewers by taking a historic look at one of Kansas City’s most important news events.

Barney McCoy, age 25, reporting at the 1981 Hyatt Regency skywalk disaster.

Truth be told, I’ve spent the last three decades of my life researching, reporting and reflecting on this tragedy. I was the first reporter on the scene that terrible night as a young reporter for Kansas City’s CBS television affiliate.

The KCTV5 Hyatt Regency skywalk collapse news special was a highlight project of my career.  After all, it’s rare that we have an opportunity to work on journalistic endeavors that defined an entire community,,, and us so personally and professionally?

It was a labor of love and respect for those whose lives were so profoundly changed by the skywalk disaster.

About Bernard McCoy

My views are my own and not a reflection of my employer. I'm a professor of Journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I've also been a working journalist for the past 29 years. I have covered news stories in war zones, reported on human and natural disasters, presidential conventions, a presidential inauguration and the September 11th, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. My career experiences include work as an award-winning documentary producer, television news reporter, photographer, producer, and anchor. I worked at WIBW-TV, Topeka, KS., KCTV, Kansas City, MO, WKBD-TV, Detroit, MI., WILX-TV, Lansing, MI. and WBNS-TV, Columbus, OH. I have also worked as a contributing reporter for The Columbus Dispatch, Associated Press, CBS, CNN, the Ohio News Network and lecture at the Kosovo Institute of Journalism and Communications. I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a master’s degree in telecommunications management from Michigan State University.
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11 Responses to Remembering the Kansas City skywalk collapse

  1. Jon Josserand says:

    Barney: You did an exceptionally professional job 30 years ago at a vewry young age under terrible circumstances. And again another exceptional job measured with experience and wisdom this time. I watched the KCMO-5 retrospective, and listened to the KCUR radio interview with Steve Kraske’s show, Up To Date. It brought back lots of memories and feelings at the time for someone like me who was only tangentially knowing of people involved. Congratulations.

  2. Jon Josserand says:

    Oops. KCTV-5. Sorry.

  3. ehauke says:

    A great, moving account. Thanks for posting this.

  4. Bruce Burton says:

    Barney, I had no idea that you were involved in this. My parents knew some of the dead. I had a high school friend whoseom died there. I recall that some years later the failure was discussed in the book To Engineer is Human.

    Best Regards, Bruce Burton

    • barneymccoy says:

      Hi Bruce,
      Good to hear from you. I will always be grateful to KCTV for inviting me to come back and work with the station’s talented anchors, reporters, editors, videographers and producers on last year’s 30th anniversary news report on the 1981 tragedy. It allowed all who participated the opportunity to get answers to questions that hadn’t originally been resolved in the weeks, months, even years that followed the skywalk’s collapse. It also allowed many of those directly involved in the collapse to get a little more closure.

  5. Robert Suhre says:


    I found your website via an internet search regarding the Hyatt skywalk disaster. I was at the Hyatt that night, and this tragedy has been on my mind recently because of publicity about plans for a new Hyatt hotel in Kansas City.

    Have you read Mary Sanchez’s recent article in the Kansas City Star about the Hyatt Skywalk Memorial? I agree with Mary that the memorial should be built.

    I’ve emailed KCMO officials asking them to provide leadership to find funding for the Skywalk Memorial. I’ve also traded emails with Mary Sanchez and Lynn Horsley (The Kansas City Star) expressing my support for the memorial, and I’ve added my comments to Mary’s on-line article referenced above. And I’ve tried tweeting a couple of comments with the hashtag #skywalkmemorial to KCMO and Hyatt leaders – however I’m new to experimenting with social media and I don’t know how to use it effectively. Bottom line: my amateur efforts don’t appear to have had much impact. What are your thoughts about how to generate enough public interest in the Skywalk Memorial so that the funding goal is met?


    Robert Suhre

    • barneymccoy says:

      Greetings Robert,
      Thanks for writing and sharing your thoughts about a memorial to the victims of the 1981 Hyatt Regency skywalk tragedy.
      Like you, I agree with Ms. Sanchez. A memorial to the victims and responders of the skywalk collapse is long overdue. It would pay tribute to the innocent lives lost and injured that July night. It would honor the selfless efforts of those emergency responders who rushed to the scene, many who risked their own lives crawling under the rubble to free trapped victims of the collapse and rush them to area hospitals for treatment. In one of the city’s darkest moments, they and many others from all walks of life were willing to step forward to help when it mattered most. This told us something important about the character of Kansas City. A memorial would reflect this for future generations to behold, to be proud of this part of our culture and history, to strengthen our own identities as Kansas Citians today.
      Many ask what other purposes a memorial might serve. It would visually preserve an important, controversial and painful historical moment in Kansas City history. It would acknowledge the loss and grieving of those whose friends and family died. It would give people a physical place to visit where they can express their grief, reflect, remember, find meaning, and heal. It would pay tribute to those injured in the collapse who recuperated, or lost loved ones who have carried on with their own lives.
      One scholar suggests that “social remembering” – a collective recounting of the past – through the commemoration of events is important for healing. This should be a purpose of a memorial to the Hyatt Regency skywalk tragedy.
      Finally, a memorial would serve to remind us that tragedies like this happen if we fail to be vigilant and responsible in our duties; as professionals, as individuals, and as citizens who cherish and respect life.
      Barney McCoy

      • Robert Suhre says:


        I received a post card in the mail today announcing ground-breaking for the Hyatt Skywalk Memorial on July 17 – the 34th anniversary of the tragedy.

        Thanks for your efforts to help bring attention to this much needed memorial.


  6. barneymccoy says:

    Dear Robert,
    Thanks for the news about the ground-breaking ceremony for a Hyatt Regency Skywalk Memorial. As you, me and so many others agree; the memorial is long overdue. I’m confused though on the location of the memorial. Is it to be built in Overland Park as one news report indicates? Thanks!
    Barney McCoy

    • Robert Suhre says:


      The location of the Skywalk Memorial is 22nd & Gillham, on the grounds of Children’s Mercy Hospital, which is near the old Hyatt Regency hotel (now a Sheraton).

      • barneymccoy says:

        Thanks Robert- That’s as it should be.A memorial near the site of the tragedy. I look forward to visiting the memorial to pay tribute to those who died, were injured, lost loved ones and came to provide aid.

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