Hyatt Skywalk Disaster: A woman remembers

KANSAS CITY, Missouri - In 1981, Colleen Riddle-Vest lived in Ogden, Iowa, but had come to Kansas City for a mid-July awards banquet for the Fuller Brush Company . The group was staying at the Hyatt Regency Hotel; its members were milling about as the tea dance started.

"A lot of us had stopped on the (skywalks) to watch the tea dancing that was going on downstairs. I was at the end of the (skywalk), someone hollared to say we needed to get to the room," she recalls, the banquet about to begin.

As she stepped off the skywalk, the walkway collapsed. The woman on one side of her fell, and the man on the other side was thrown off, too.

Colleen remembers her surroundings vividly. She couldn't see anything at first. There was too much dust.

"What I remember is the loud noise of cement falling and breaking. Then a lot of screaming. Hollering. Moaning and groaning. ...and then the...," she stops, crying. "...I'm sorry...just was complete silence."

As the dust cleared, the water pipes in the room broke, filling the lobby floor with water.

"It looked like the red sea..." her voice cracking.

She continued to describe a lobby, full of bloodied bodies, body parts, and debris, filling with the water that turned red as it pooled.

"The next thing I heard was saws," she continues, lost in the memory, barely aware she's being interviewed.

"They were sawing concrete to get it off the people. They were sawing bones. Taking legs and arms off of people laying under the cement so they'd live. It just went on and on and on," says Colleen.

She quickly moved on from that image, and turned to her rush to find a phone. And it wasn't just her looking. She moved along with a crowd of people, all wanting to let loved ones know they were okay.

A single mother with three teenage children at home, Colleen remembers wanting to get to them before the images got on TV.

"I knew if they saw this they'd be terrorized...so my main concern wasn't me, it was my kids," her voice cracking slightly.

She says people shared the small phone bank they eventually found in the basement of the Hyatt. They took turns. One person would get through, have their conversation, and then hand the phone to the next person waiting. Finally, it was her turn.

"One of the boys answered and I said do you have the television on? He said yes, why?...and I said because you're going to see some pictures and I want you to remember that I'm okay," Colleen recalls.

Colleen and her group were sent outside to sit across the street. They weren't allowed into the building because officials weren't sure how stable the rest of the building was. They watched as bodies were carried out. Colleen counted 108.

They were set up in rooms at a different hotel. It was three days before there were ushered in in small groups of 3 or 4 to get their belongings. Their purses and clothes, untouched, in hotel rooms that felt different now.

Colleen still works for Fuller Brush, all these years later. She's been with the company more than 45 years and now lives in Independence, MO.

Her kids still talk about the skywalk tragedy, and now the grandkids want to hear about it.

Several years ago, one of work colleagues called to ask if she'd been back to the Hyatt. She hadn't.

They went together and Colleen says it looked so different. So quiet. She cried.

She says if there were a memorial, she'd go.

She might soon get to do that. A memorial plan is in the fundraising phase and an artist's rendering of a memorial monument will be unveiled Sunday, July 17. Go to SkyWalkMemorial.org for more information.

Print this article Back to Top

Comments