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Stupid Engineering Mistakes

CowboyNeal posted more than 8 years ago | from the back-to-the-drawing-board dept.


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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one comment, one addition (4, Informative)

yagu (721525) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449740)

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.

Re:one comment, one addition (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15449825)

Thanks for posting this, you've saved me the trouble. That one was horrible and it took years to figure out who was at fault.


Re:one comment, one addition (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15449834)

"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 was the St. Francis damn--the issue had squat to do with a person who was self-taught. It had to do with the community, other engineers, excavators/construction--all had opportunities or should have had opportunities to correct or identify problems, but they were overlooked, ignored, politically side-barred.

Re:one comment, one addition (1)

epgandalf (105735) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449852)

I'm surprised that Wired made such an obvious mistake. I noticted the same mistake about the Hyatt collapse while reading the article. This was one of the mistakes featured in an episode of Engineering Disasters on the History Channel.

Re:one comment, one addition (3, Interesting)

mattkime (8466) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449910)

>>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 bending and BAM! no more walkway.

Like many engineering disaters, its not the plans that were wrong but the changes made to them. Personally, I found it amazing that the construction crew didn't see the flaw.

Ok, I'm going back to making pretty pictures...

Re:one comment, one addition (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15449999)

> Like many engineering disaters, its not the plans that were wrong but the changes made to them.

False. In engineering there is no difference between the plans and the changes: they are both the plan. There are very well defined processes called "Engineering Changes" that must be adhered to, which include reviews of calculations as well as engineering group and management reviews of the drawings and documentation, including signing off on drawings. Changes are not treated arbitrarily but with rigor. > Ok, I'm going back to making pretty pictures... Ok, but stay away from engineering drawings.

Re:one comment, one addition (4, Informative)

Jherek Carnelian (831679) | more than 8 years ago | (#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).

Another one you might not have heard about (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15449742)

my anus ruptured in 2006 and sent a wave of diarrhea up the walls 15' high. God, that was embarrassing.


Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15449810)

its an honest mistake!!

This is filed under "humor?" (5, Insightful)

setirw (854029) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449752)

I don't consider disasters as consequences of poor engineering to be especially funny.

Re:This is filed under "humor?" (5, Funny)

-Brodalco- (938695) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449773)

You don't think a 15 foot wave of syrup engulfing a town is funny? Check his pulse, I think he's dead!

Eat balls (1)

linvir (970218) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449797)

There's a big difference between laughing at people for dying and laughing at disastrous engineering mistakes.

Re:This is filed under "humor?" (1)

Tackhead (54550) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449801)

> I don't consider disasters as consequences of poor engineering to be especially funny.

Speak for yourself.

In Canadian engineering schools at least, there is approximately a 1:1 ratio of "Oh Shit" [] posters to Iron Rings [] .

disasters as consequences of poor engineering? (1)

thegrott (977653) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449824)


Re:disasters as consequences of poor engineering? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15449984)

No, no, that's a disaster as a consequence of social behavior, not engineering.

Re:disasters as consequences of poor engineering? (1)

TheDreadSlashdotterD (966361) | more than 8 years ago | (#15450022)

Engineering. Not poor judgement.

Depends... (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449864)

I don't consider disasters as consequences of poor engineering to be especially funny.

Ever have one of those moments of severe humiliation or embarassment "you'll look back upon and laugh at some day"?

It's probably unfunniest to those who were killed and injured and those friend to or relations of.

An architect friend pointed out some building in Denver, Colorado, with a curved roof. A heavy snow overwhelmed whatever means the building had to cope with accumulations of precipitation. The foot or more snow fell as a sheet and flattened an unoccupied car parked along the street. Funny, but perhaps not to the person who returned to find their car under a pile of ice and snow and thinks they are now living on borrowed time.

What comes back to me, from time to time, is the astounding feats of engineering accomplished before computers came along. Now errors seem rampant as people think too much in virtual terms and don't spend enough time actually thinking through what their creation may really have to endure.

Feats of the past (4, Insightful)

Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449952)

>astounding feats of engineering accomplished before computers came along. Now errors seem rampant

Errors were always rampant. Railway bridges used to collapse routinely. Frank Lloyd Wright built buildings that couldn't even keep the rain off, a feat pre-industrial peasants had been managing for thousands of years.

Only the best work has survived until now.

80 people dying today in a train wreck is tragedy (1)

patio11 (857072) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449977)

80 people dying 80 years ago after waves of molasses 15 feet tall drench central Boston is a comedy.

Listen (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15449989)

If you can't laugh at hundreds of needless deaths, what can you laugh at?

Three Gorges Damn (4, Interesting)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449758)

It's waiting to happen.

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

Re:Three Gorges Damn (1)

bunions (970377) | more than 8 years ago | (#15450002)


Given the amount of corruption in China, I'd be really surprised if the dam wasn't filled with straw at some point instead of concrete.

The entire thing is a disaster of epic proportions just waiting to happen.

Re:Three Gorges Damn (1)

AuMatar (183847) | more than 8 years ago | (#15450003)

But it rocks in Civ 4. If only it didn't cost so many hammers.

15 foot wave of Syrup? (1, Funny)

-Brodalco- (938695) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449760)

And to think I felt sorry for all of the poor people in india who just got hit with 10-foot waves of regular water.

'self-taught' enginner (1)

TheFlamingoKing (603674) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449765)

I think CowboyNeal is self-taught spelling.

Re:'self-taught' enginner (1)

setirw (854029) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449791)

What's the problem? It's spelt correctly.

Re:'self-taught' enginner (1)

setirw (854029) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449826)

Or, should I have said, "Whats the problem? Its spellt corectly."

Re:'self-taught' enginner (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15449945)

ENGINNER was not the intended word.

Common theme (5, Funny)

Kesch (943326) | more than 8 years ago | (#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

Re:Common theme (1)

Frequency Domain (601421) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449874)

A common theme in half of these is that a small change was made at the last minute.
I was thinking the same thing. My wife saw the Vasa (it's been raised) in Stockholm last year, and according to the museum the king was micromanaging the project and made many last minute changes, including adding more guns by cutting gunports through the hull on a deck just above the waterline. It was those last minute additions that caused it to ship water and sink on the maiden voyage.

Re:Common theme (4, Interesting)

Wudbaer (48473) | more than 8 years ago | (#15450054)

Yes, and they even had back then the culture "Don't blow the whistle to management that the project is doomed".

I also visited the museum (quite impressive indeed) and there they told that they used to test ships for their stability by having a number of soldiers run from one side of the deck to the other in a coordinated fashion to see if the ship would start to sway. And sway it did, that strong that they had to stop the test to keep it from capsizing. But who wanted to tell the king that his wondership, the one he meant to dominate the Baltic Sea, was not even seaworthy for a pond ?

So everyone kept silent, the ship went under having hardly cleared the harbour, and the best: Afterwards noone could be hold responsible: The master shipbuilder having designed the ship had died before the launch, his successor only inherited the design at a very late stage and couldn't make any substantial changes, and the King, well... you don't hold the King accountable ! :-)

like Skylab? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15450032)

Wired forgot to mention the *end* of Skylab. It was falling out of orbit around 1979. Then, someone realized that it very well might fall on U.S. soil. Yikes! NASA engineers to the rescue! They managed to put it into a tumbling position, which delayed its descent by about half an orbit.

Whew! Lucky the only thing we hit were a few Australians in the town of Esperance. They sent the U.S. State Department a fine for littering.

15 feet high? (3, Interesting)

Ant P. (974313) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449769)

What on earth were they planning on doing with such a huge stockpile of molasses?!

Re:15 feet high? (1)

OmgTEHMATRICKS (836103) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449790)

...Launching it into outer space via slingshot? You know how all those little green guys love that molasses stuff with their beef.

Re:15 feet high? (1)

Ironsides (739422) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449811)

They were a brewing company. Perchance they were going to make... BEER?

Re:15 feet high? (1)

misleb (129952) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449981)

I've been meaning to brew a batch of beer with part molasses...


Re:15 feet high? (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449812)

What on earth were they planning on doing with such a huge stockpile of molasses?!

Probably goes with all those Boston Baked Beans.

You probably don't give a passing consideration of the volumes corn syrup whizzing around the world in large tankers, to eventually be stored in large tanks, for the production of drinks, kiddie cereals, candy bars, etc. I'm sure ADM has some rather impressive tanks somewhere in Indiana.

Re:15 feet high? (2, Funny)

linvir (970218) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449881)

They were going to sell them really cheaply to Cuba, along with the deliberately crappy container. The story is that they'd been picking up chatter about a molasses enrichment project being undertaken by Castro's scientists.

Unfortunately they miscalculated and blew their load prematurely.

Re:15 feet high? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15450048)

Distill rum, in fact.

Vasa (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15449776)

The "Vasa" ship mentioned in the story is actually the Regalskeppet Vasa [] .

15 foot high waves of molasses (5, Funny)

dpreformer (32338) | more than 8 years ago | (#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...

Re:15 foot high waves of molasses (4, Informative)

aGuyNamedJoe (317081) | more than 8 years ago | (#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 []

Re:15 foot high waves of molasses (5, Informative)

ckswift (700993) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Re:15 foot high waves of molasses (1)

enosys (705759) | more than 8 years ago | (#15450027)

I thought the molasses was heated. I don't see any references to it in the Wikipedia article but I remember references from other sites. Here's an article [] I found that says some people were cooked by the molasses.

Forgot the biggest one (2, Insightful)

litewoheat (179018) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449784)

They forgot the most important one, the one that's screwed the most people by far.


Re:Forgot the biggest one (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15449800)


Re:Forgot the biggest one (1)

bersl2 (689221) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449804)

Since when did Windows endanger someone's life?

(Death-by-Balmer doesn't count.)

Re:Forgot the biggest one (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15449885)

No Asian disasters? (5, Interesting)

dorpus (636554) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Re:No Asian disasters? (3, Funny)

S.O.B. (136083) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449985)

The Toronto Skydome beat them by 8 years.

Digg Dupe (-1, Troll)

stygar (539704) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449787)

So is it standard policy now at Slashdot to only post the most popular entries off of yesterday's Digg frontpage?

Re:Digg Dupe (3, Insightful)

linvir (970218) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449836)

I used to complain about this too. Then I remembered that Digg and Slashdot exist in the same reality, so there's likely to be some convergence in the content.

Re:Digg Dupe (1)

mgabrys_sf (951552) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449950)

Have you read the comments at Digg lately? I panned them months ago - but took a peek the other day to see if time would have raised the comment IQ over there. Not a chance. It's as bad - if not worse than something from MySpace.

Even when the comments are short here - they're at least literate.

(And if this looks like kissing ass for Karma's sake - I'm already "excelent" disclaimer blah. Of course that doesn't preclude earlier ass-kissing.)

Re:Digg Dupe (4, Funny)

linvir (970218) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449973)


The sweet smell lingers (1)

qodfathr (255387) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449792)

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.

killing 21 and injuring 150 (1)

Janek Kozicki (722688) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449794)

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.

Re:killing 21 and injuring 150 (1)

mctk (840035) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449833)

It didn't get Anthony Distasio, however, who body surfed a wave of molasses to safety (according to Balderdash, at least).

Re:killing 21 and injuring 150 (1)

tscheez (71929) | more than 8 years ago | (#15450037) ter []

apparently the molasses moved at 35 MPH -- thats some fast molasses.

i guess "slow as molasses in january" isnt that slow.

Killed by molasses (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15449796)

How is a wave of molasses going to kill anyone? You could probably outrun it easily; molasses isn't very fast.

Re:Killed by molasses (1)

hb253 (764272) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449818)

Most likely it was hot boiling molasses.

Re:Killed by molasses (1)

Deadstick (535032) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449866)

When the foundation of your house starts to move, it's a little late to start running.


Re:Killed by molasses (5, Funny)

linvir (970218) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449960)

News: Holy Shit! The town molasses has escaped! You have three hours to save yourselves!
Dude: Whoa, sounds pretty bad! I'd better...
News: Next on Six, that Paris Hilton sex tape in full! One hour later... Dude: Whoa, that ruled. I need a beer!
Dude wastes another hour or so drinking and watching pr0n.
Dude forgets about the molasses and goes to bed.
Molasses: I am nearing Dude's house.
Dude: I am now in bed sleeping, unaware of the impending danger.
The molasses eats Dude alive
Dude: What the fuck? Oh shit, the molasses! I totally forgot!
Molasses: And now there is no escape for you!

Texas City disaster: city destroyed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15449799)

I hope the Texas City disaster made the list. "Destruction of a city" ought to rate for something, dammit! Google it and be shocked that you've never heard of it.

Hopefully the Pepcon Corp explosion in Nevada made the list, because nobody was smart enough to keep that disaster from happening.

Re:Texas City disaster: city destroyed (1)

enosys (705759) | more than 8 years ago | (#15450043)

Yes, the Texas City Disaster [] was big, but it doesn't seem like an engineering mistake.

Great out of print book (4, Informative)

winkydink (650484) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449823)

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.

Therac-25 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15449830)

It's as much a human-factors disaster story as a strict "engineering" disaster story, but the story of the Therac-25 incidents [] (warning: radioactive .PDF) should be part of every CS curriculum on the planet.

Re:Therac-25 (1)

Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) | more than 8 years ago | (#15450025)

That one's noteworthy because it's one of suprisingly few cases(*) in which disaster was caused by actual software bugs. What Nancy Leveson discovered in researching _Safeware_ was that the typical disaster is one in which software, like the bureaucrat it is, carries on doing exactly what it was told even when circumstances make it disastrously inappropriate.

(*) ATT Martin Luther King Day outage, Ariane blowup, Mariner loss back in ancient times, Mars mission with units of measure scrambled: any others?

why isnt Lake Peigneur on this list (5, Interesting)

plasmacutter (901737) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

DC-10 Worst Engineering Disaster hardly... (4, Informative)

PPGMD (679725) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449838)

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.

Re:DC-10 Worst Engineering Disaster hardly... (1)

amabbi (570009) | more than 8 years ago | (#15450056)

You could also pt to AA191 as an engineering defect. Severing of hydraulic lines should not cause slats to retract. Although the precipitating cause was AA's neglectful maintenance procedures, Douglas should have designed the wing surfaces to not fail with loss of hydraulics.

Lake Peigneur (4, Interesting)

HockeyPuck (141947) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Where's Chernobyl? (1)

Tx (96709) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449847)

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?

Re:Where's Chernobyl? (1)

MBCook (132727) | more than 8 years ago | (#15450024)

Chernobyl was caused by running a stupid experiment on a live reactor with all the safety systems turned off. I don't know how safe the reactor was in general operation, but it didn't just "blow up" one day.

Re:Where's Chernobyl? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15450040)

Chernobyl was caused by an experiment that went awry. Left to its own devices, without any kooky experiments, it would've remained relatively unsafe rather than becoming a disaster.

Reminds me of a story... (3, Interesting)

burnttoy (754394) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449859)

In 1814 in in London town,
a flood of beer came to drown. ht=& []

Number 3, the Vasa (5, Interesting)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449862)

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.

Re:Number 3, the Vasa (1)

enosys (705759) | more than 8 years ago | (#15450067)

Here's a link to the museum [] . They have some information on the ship and a few photos.

Re:Number 3, the Vasa (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15450079)

The museum has a neat website. []

Bahhh... They forgot to mention the lake draining (1)

technoextreme (885694) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449868)

I remember watching an episode of Modern Maverls aptly named engineering disasters. Well the funniest one had to be the disaster where a bunch of oil riggers managed to drain an entire lake into a mine. The drilled right through the mine shaft because of a bad map and the whole entire lake and part of the land surrounding it went into the mine. Fortunately, no one died but yeesh... I didn't think such a thing could happen.

Bahhhh.. They forgot the Disney Concert Hall (4, Funny)

technoextreme (885694) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449931)

Yeesh... Someone all ready posted a better and more detailed description of the lake. Anyway here is another engineering disaster. The Disney Opera House in California. [] It was a really nice building. Very ornate and very shiny and cool looking. The problem is that they designed and built Archimedes Death Ray. Certain parts of the building were curved that they were cooking the inside of people's apartments, melting trafic cones, blinding drivers, and setting stuff on fire. The solution was just to sandblast the offending objects but yeesh.

Cypress Freeway (I-880) in Oakland (2, Interesting)

linguae (763922) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

do7l (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15449882)

reve7 in our gay propaganda and

Boston massacre... (1)

Gertlex (722812) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449886)

... I mean Boston Molassacure

Ten Worst of ALL TIME??? (4, Insightful)

Em Adespoton (792954) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449887)

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.

Bad engineering makes for grumpy Calculus students (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15449924)

In my Calculus 2 course, we had a problem that dealt directly with The Great Molasses Flood. We had to calculate the pressure of the tank contents upon any spot on the side of the tank.

At least the problem's background was interesting...

The DC-10 doesn't belong on this list... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15449894)

The plane that had it's door sucked out crashed because of poor maintenance -- a mechanic slammed the door shut with too much force, crushing the seal which lead to the door coming loose in flight.

The Turkish Airways flight crashed due to the airline modifying the seat configuration and not telling anyone, subjecting the floor to forces it wasn't designed for.

The flight of which the engine collapsed was, again, a maintenance issue. Crews were instructed to remove the engine before removing the pylon on the wing, but to save time they took it off all in one go -- again, something the airframe wasn't designed for.

The DC-10 is little better (or worse) than most other modern airliners.

What was the basis for judgement on those?? (2, Interesting)

WidescreenFreak (830043) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449898)

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.

#9 (1)

ssk77077 (855702) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449900)

I've been waiting patiently for a hurricane to make it to NYC so that we can see of the Citicorp building fixes worked.

Mullholland wasn't always wrong (4, Informative)

techno-vampire (666512) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449921)

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.

Re:Mullholland wasn't always wrong (1)

yroJJory (559141) | more than 8 years ago | (#15450072)

Actually, I studied the St. Francis dam break a little in college. While Wired is blaming Mullholland for it, he wasn't actually at fault for its failure. Prior to that dam, it was not known that building a dam on two different kinds of rock would subvert its foundation. That was only learned afterwards, when studying the dam's failure.

Yes, Mullholland did visit the damn and see the cracks. He also did make the mistaken determination that the dam would survive. As a result, he was distraught in regards to his failure and from the lives that were lost as a result.

Hotel New World (1)

thekman00 (532868) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449929)

One I would've put on this list would be the Hotel New World [] disaster. The building's own weight was left out of the calculations on the load it would be able to hold.

Galloping Gertie (1)

EtherC (949222) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449932)

The old Tacoma Narrows Bridge, a.k.a. Galloping Gertie was a fascinating example of self-excited forces gone wrong. It didn't make the cut?
( #Film_and_Video_of_collapse [] )

I mean, I know there were no human losses, but won't somebody please think of the fish?

FAA/Exponent (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15449942)

The Citigroup Center Story (1)

affliction (242524) | more than 8 years ago | (#15449955)

There is a fantastic story from 1995 in the New Yorker as told by the lead engineer of the Citigroup Center building. He talks about how one of his engineering students at Cambridge told him his math was wrong and his building would fail. He didn't believe him at first, but finally found his error. He decided to come forth with the fact that he screwed up, which could have ended his career. An excellent read. []

Molasses (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15449983)

The Violence of the Explosion
Fermentation, a sudden rise in temperature, and an inadequate tank caused the tank containing two million gallons of molasses to explode. The force of the explosion was so great that:

        * Half-inch steel plates of the huge molasses tank were torn apart. ("Seeking Cause of Explosion," The Salem Evening News, January 16, 1919: 7.)
        * The plates were propelled in all directions, hard enough to cut the girders of the elevated railway. (Ibid.)
        * After the explosion, a tremendous vacuum sucked into ruin buildings which had withstood the primary blast. (Ibid.)
        * The vacuum also picked up a truck and dragged it across the street toward the molasses tank. ("Big Molasses Tank Blast Kills Eleven," The Boston Globe, January 16, 1919: 8.)
        * An elevated train was lifted off the rails and fell onto the ties. (Ibid.)
        * Some buildings collapsed.
        * Some buildings were knocked off their foundations.
        * Some buildings were buried under

I have a few... (2, Insightful)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 8 years ago | (#15450009)

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.

Hindenburg Mistake (1)

caller9 (764851) | more than 8 years ago | (#15450023)

Although wikipedia says differently Rate_of_flame_propagation [] I thought that coating the surface with flammable material was a poor choice. I saw some documentary where they burned a scrap of the ship or a recreation of it and it burned like magnesium. Sure the fact that it contained hydrogen added fuel to the fire, but surely wrapping a fast burning fuse around a flammable gas was the ultimate in stupid. Like I said wikipedia says differently but I'm going with the discovery(history? tlc?) documentary on it and blame the idiot that installed the fuse. Leave hydrogen alone will ya, after all 1 is the lonliest atomic number.

Therac-25 (3, Interesting)

MBCook (132727) | more than 8 years ago | (#15450045)

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?

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