Alabama Tower Collapse Claims 3

It will take at least six months to figure out why a 985-foot TV tower collapsed last week in Huntsville, Ala., taking three lives, according to Occupational Health and Safety Administration officials in that district. The weather was reported clear and calm when the tower, used by WAAY Channel 31, came down around 1 p.m. last Thursday. At the time of the collapse, three engineers were reported to be working about halfway up the structure, upgrading it for the additional weight of HDTV transmission equipment. All three were killed. Charles Pace, 35, of Tuscon, Ariz.; Bryan Buckhardt, 27, of Robstown, Texas died at the scene, and J.C. Dela Lama, 35, of Hollywood Fla. died at a Huntsville Hospital, according to published reports.

The three engineers were employed by Irving, Tex.-based SpectraSite Broadcast Group, which leased the tower to WAAY. SpectraSite vice president of quality and field services, Duane MacEntee told The Huntsville Times that the company is focusing on helping the families of those workers.

Other recent fatal tower collapses include one in Nebraska, where a 1,965-foot structure owned by Duhamel Broadcasting Enterprises of Rapid City, S.D. fell to the ground last September. Two workers who were trying to strengthen the structure for digital transmission equipment were killed. Three others working on the transmission facility were injured. Five years earlier in Jackson, Miss., three workers lost their lives when a 33-year-old 2000 ft. broadcast tower went down.

Recent non-fatal tower collapses include one near Teays Valley, W.V., where the weight of ice brought down the 1,500-foot WVAH-TV tower last February. That tower was 15-years old. In November 2002, a 1,627-foot broadcast tower used by KDEB Channel 27 and KTXR-FM in Fordland, Mo., also toppled from the weight of ice. No injuries were reported in either of those incidents.

OSHA reports on each incident weren't immediately available, but the minutes from a December 5, 2002 meeting of the agency's Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health includes this testimony from Dr. Mohammed Ayuh:

"Due to the HDTV approval by the Congress, each broadcasting company is, in a way, under the gun to have this HDTV broadcast soon," Ayuh said. "Therefore, they are going to have the new HDTV antennas on top of the tower. So, there is a great amount of movement in the tower industry to come up with new TV antennas. Due to the new guys and cables and conduits, and due to the much higher weight of the new HD-TV antennas, some of the members of the towers have to be replaced. Diagonals have to be replaced. Some of the horizontal members have to be replaced. We are finding that in such cases, accidents are taking place. For example, in Nebraska TV tower collapse, they were trying to replace the diagonal of the tower. During that replacement, the entire tower collapsed and two people got killed."

Ayuh cited the collapse of a 2000-foot TV tower in Jackson, Miss. of having similar causes.

"The causes are the same: the workers are not trained. They are replacing the diagonal members without taking extra care. They are removing the end bolt of the diagonal, they are removing the end bolt of the strut members, such that the entire tower becomes weak and it fails."

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