After Skyline high-rise collapse: Yells from rescuers atop the debris, silence from the ruins—and a chilling news segment from Channel 9

imageThe chilling aftermath of the 1973 Skyline high-rise collapse in Falls Church, VA—where 14 workers died and 34 suffered injuries—shows up in the video below. In The Solomon Scandals, I fictionalized the tragedy.

As recalled by one firefighter quoted by Channel 9’s Dave Statter, rescue crews would “stand along the top of the collapsed debris and everybody would simultaneously stomp on the concrete while yelling. Then at a signal, all would stop and there would be total silence on the entire work site while people would listen for any kind of a response from underneath. Never got any, though.”

Update, March 22, 2017: Kudos to Mike Buchanan for his reporting for the TV station.

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David Rothman

13 thoughts on “After Skyline high-rise collapse: Yells from rescuers atop the debris, silence from the ruins—and a chilling news segment from Channel 9

  1. I was 22 yrs. old at the time of this accident, and still remember it as if it were yesterday.
    The morning of the accident I was working 3 floors below the center of the collapse area removing stairwell and elevator shaft forms when the lunch hour arrived. After lunch I resumed my duties and within the first 30 minutes of the afternoon I was called up top to work the decking as someone had gone home sick. I thank the Lord for looking after me that day or I would not be amoung living.

    In the video the investigators are questioning where the last bucket of concrete was dropped and whether a column was left out. I can honestly say it was not that that caused the building to fail, it was the lack of floor shoring, 3 decks in total, you can see them in the photos and on the video.

    The first signs that something wasn’t right is when someone on the upper deck look down at the concrete that was poured that morning and yelled, ” look at the sag in the slab.”
    We all climbed down the ladder to the deck below and laid our faces to the floor to observe the extent of the sagging deck. We then went 3 floors down and found the labor crew pulling shoring to send up top. We all yelled for them to stop. Just then a couple supervisor ran up and yelled, ” grab some 2×4’s and prop up the deck.” It was at that moment the top 3 floors dropped in one big slab killing all the labor crew instantly. We turned and started running down the nearest stairwell, 2 or 3 floors down the weight of the 3 floors on the 4th sheared the 4th deck off and after that it became a domino effect as weight increased and the floors roared past us to the basement. It was all over by the time we reach the ground. I had just gone through the most horrifiv and scariest few minutes of my life and lived to talk about it and tell my children.

  2. I got a laugh at the fellow they interviewed that claimed he ran from the 24th floor then across the parking garage ( approx. the 5th floor ) when he was hit by falling concrete.
    I don’t rightly think so.
    I was on the top floor laying plywood deck for the start of the next floor, the rebar guys were finishing up on the last floor at the far end of the building and the cement crew was pouring in the middle.
    Myself and approx. 20 other guys had plenty of warning that something was amiss, because we observed the sag in the concrete slab below us that was poured that morning.
    We dropped everything and started down but only got down to the 20th floor when the top 3 floors failed.
    How I know this is because we saw the labor crew pulling shoring 3 floors below the collapse zone and saw timbers buckling and breaking just before it failed.
    We stopped only for a moment and yelled at them to stop what they were doing. A foremen tried to talk us into grabbing 2x4s and help prop it back up.
    We ignored his order and started back down the stairwell when we heard a loud bang and felt the building violently shake, she’s going, someone yelled and we all put a hand on the man’s shoulder in front of you and started taking 3 steps at a time and telling the guy in front of you, what ever you do don’t trip.
    All those labors were killed instantly when the top 3 floors dropped. It then became a domino effect as the weight of each floor adding to the collapse increased in speed.
    It roared by us only feet away with flying concrete, timbers and debris as we ran for our lives. I seriously believed my life was over and all I thought of as I ran was, if it hits me I won’t feel it.
    By the time we reached ground level it was all over but a cloud of dust.
    Whats amazing to my story is that that morning I was one of those laborers below pulling forms and after lunch was told to go up on the top deck because one fellow had gone home sick.
    1 1/2 hrs. later the building failed.
    My guarding angel was with me that day.

  3. Darrell, thanks for sharing those memories. I’m glad you were able to escape, and my sympathy over the loss of your friends. – David Rothman

  4. David,
    I want to thank you for sending me an e-book of the Solomn Scandals, it’s being a good read thus far.
    Darrell L.

  5. I was 10 years old watching them search the rubble into the night from the road. I think we came over the first few nights. Thank you for writing about your experience. It Is very satisfying to read your story and know that you were acsurvivor. The incident has haunted me for decades ( obviously, considering that I just thought to look it up 43 years later.) God bless you.

  6. Hi, Tom. So glad you shared your own feelings about the Skyline tragedy.

    Just to clarify for latecomers, I was not personally at the collapse, but earlier some commenters were.

    Meanwhile I see that the embedded video has vanished for now. If it doesn’t reappear, I may be able to do an embed from another source.


  7. My father was among the workers killed in this collapse. I was 4 and my brother was 7 at the time it happened.

  8. I was the last one down those stairs and was behind those 20 guys. Darrell Lawrence comments are quite accurate. I was working alone on the same floor and they made me aware of the sag in the concrete slab.

  9. I was 12 years old attending private school in the lower level of Calvery Baptist Church right across the street. I watched that tower being built every day out of the window right next to my desk. That day I heard a loud roar and saw the crane falling thru the building at the same time my teacher yelled what is going on and I said the crane was falling down across the street she made us all get out of the building into the parking lot, it was very dark from all the concrete dust and debris in the air, construction workers were fleeing the site in vehicles that they were driving through the construction fence up onto the road it was a chaotic scene. When the dust cleared we could here someone yelling, it was a worker on the top of the smaller tower that was still standing trying to get someone’s attention. I think it was a news helicopter showed up and and was flying around I guess he saw him and flew right up to the edge of the building and he jumped in. That was a very tragic day.

  10. Mark: Thanks for sharing your memories of Skyline, and please feel free to add to your recollections. Props to your teacher for being extra careful. D.R.

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