To err is human, but sadly an engineer doesn’t have that luxury. Even a slip-up can lead to some catastrophic and immensely costly results. You want some proof? Below are five most disastrous mistakes ever made by engineers and their sorry results!
1. St. Francis Dam flooding (1928)
The St. Francis Dam was a concrete dam under construction during 1924 and 1926, and was being built to work as a water reservoir for Los Angeles. The dam was situated in a canyon around 40 miles from the city. However, just two years after its inauguration, on March 12, 1928, the dam catastrophically failed to open the gates for a massive 120 ft tall water wave, flooding away as many as 600 people and marking one of the deadliest civil engineering disasters in recorded history.
2. Tacoma Narrows Bridge Collapse (1940)
This was a suspension bridge built in the Washington state in 1940. At the time, it was the world’s third longest suspension bridge by main span length. Unfortunately, the bridge was found to sway vertically in windy conditions, and in the same year of its construction, on November 7, 1940, the bridge collapsed under 40 mph (64 km/h) winds. The collapse was even caught on tape and had a great impact on bridge designs by civil engineers. Later it was found that the cause of failure was the aeroelastic flutter, which is the dynamic instability of an elastic structure.
3. Cleveland East Ohio Gas Explosion (1944)
You learn by failing, but sometimes these failures can be extremely taxing. On October 20, 1944, a liquefied natural gas storage tank kept above ground started to leak. This liquefied gas seeped into sewer lines, mixed with air and sewer gas, and caused a flame so large that it consumed 130 people in Cleveland, Ohio. This terrible disaster led to the practice of always storing natural gas tanks below the ground.
4. Concorde Air France Flight 4590 crash (2000)
On 25 July 2000, a Concorde flight of Air France burst into flames moments after its takeoff from Charles de Gaulle International Airport, Paris. During takeoff, one of the plane’s tires was cut by a metal strip debris on the runway, which ruptured the tire. A piece of tire was sent hurtling and hit the underside of the wing, leading to the crash.
The terrible accident killed 113 people. Investigations, later on, suggested that the Concorde was much more prone to crashing than other planes since its tires required much higher air pressure and tire speed during the takeoff roll, increasing the risk of tire explosion, and consequential crash. The accident started the downfall of the supersonic airliner, and the Concorde was eventually retired three years later.
5. Space Shuttle Columbia disaster (2003)
In a shocking accident, on February 1, 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia caught fire and disintegrated during its re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. The accident killed all of the seven astronauts on board, and the investigation showed that the failure occurred during the launch when a piece of foam insulation tore off from the shuttle and hit the left wing. This damaged the tiles protecting the shuttle, and when it produced tremendous speeds during the reentry the damaged area caught fire that ended up with the disintegration of the shuttle