KANSAS CITY, MO -- Forty years ago, one of the deadliest disasters in modern history befell Kansas City.

During a dance at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in 1981, a skywalk came crashing down on the crowd below, killing 114 people and wounding more than 200 others.

Mark McGonigle remembers attending the dance with his brother and some friends. He had just turned from the skywalk when he heard an unforgettable sound.

"I heard this rumbling, this awful rumbling," he said. "I remember whipping around and seeing people falling and this cloud of dust coming up."

McGonigle wanted to help as best as he could in that situation. He immediately recognized one of the men trapped in the rubble as someone he had seen earlier in the night.

He knew the man would not survive his injuries.

"I see him under this rubble and crushed to death," McGonigle remembered. "But his hand was sticking out and it was moving. He was covered in glass and blood and I said 'I'm going to pray with you' and prayed the 'Our Father.'"

It would take first responders hours, days in some cases, to reach people trapped inside the hotel.

That night journalists would help bring crucial information to viewers at home worried for their loved ones. 

The work of the press in Kansas City helped bring about regulatory changes to prevent the construction oversights that caused the disaster. 

Barney McCoy had just finished his shift at KCTV5 at the time, when a call from the newsroom sent him back out into the night.

"Nothing could have prepared me for that night at the Hyatt Regency," McCoy said.

He remembered working photojournalist John Tygart. Both men remembered that night as the most devastating story of their careers.

Tygart said he tries not to think about the things he saw.

"The only think I could do in a situation like that is do my job," he said. "Concentrate on the situation and be able to share it with others. In cases like that my work was my salvation."

Tygart is retired, occasionally selling some of the artistic stills he takes of skylines and landscapes around the city.

McCoy is a journalism professor at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.

McGonigle now works as a therapist in Brookside. He recently began to wonder about the man whose hand he held in those final moments.

He began a search for the man's family. With help from journalists and investigators he found out the man's name was Robert Jonas. He found Jonas' widow in Olathe to let her know her husband had not died alone.

"It let me know I was there in a real way," McGonigle said.

For McGonigle the story of the Hyatt is the story of humanity--its failures, but also the hope people can find in each other.

"You might think of stories like that as dehumanizing but the response is also humanizing," he said.

KCTV5.com is now with you on the go! Get the latest news updates and video, StormTrack5 weather forecast, weather radar, special investigative reports, sports headlines and much more from KCTV5 News. 

>> Click/tap here to download our free mobile app. <<

Copyright 2021 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.


Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.