How One Little Mistake Can Lead to Disaster

This is why people should do and re-do their math until they’re completely sure they got it right. Because in the real world of architects and engineers and so on, a slight miscalculation can wreak havoc: after a certain figure leaves the writing sheet, there might be no turning back. And by the time the people who are applying the miscalculation can figure out what’s going on, it might just be too late. Here’s a small list of famous disasters brought upon by one little mistake.

1. Square Windows on an Airplane


As anyone who’s ever ridden an airplane knows, the windows we peek through today have round edges. And their round shape is designed like that for a reason: to prevent the pressure build-up from breaking into the airplane at its weakest spots, those square points. In engineering language, those square angles are now called a “stress concentration. But what today is common wisdom, back in the 50s was yet to be discovered.

It took the crash of two Havilland Comets that disintegrated into thin air mid-flight for no predictable reason for the scientists to finally figure it out: it’s the square windows that get people killed.

2. The Hyatt Regency Walkway Collapse


In the early 1980 Kansas City, the Hyatt Regency was attempting to be the talk of the town with its posh designs and breath-taking views. To this effect, the hotel managers ordered several aerial walkways to adorn the top of the room, so people can admire the lower lobby in its full splendor. Unfortunately, at one point during the build planning, they decided to do a minor design change, meant to make the whole build easier: namely, they replaced a long rod with two shorter rods. Seemingly harmless, right? Well, yes, until the whole thing collapsed and killed 114 people and injured a further 216. This disaster was considered the world’s greatest structural collapse until the World Trade Center. And it all started with one little mistake.

3. The Nuclear Disaster of Chernobyl


Everyone has heard of this one. The nuclear catastrophe that left the region desolate (the after-math can be explored through this series of hauntingly beautiful pictures) could have been prevented by simply paying more attention. After first placing the blame on power plant operators, the Russian authorities later admitted that a design deficiency was in fact responsible for the explosion. The event took countless lives, either immediately or by slower paced cancer and deformities caused by the radiation.

4. The Cocoanut Grove Fire of 1942 Chicago


A fire broke out in Cocoanut Grove, a hip club that was all the rage at the time. Never mind that the club was highly flammable to begin with, but the really outrageous mistake is how the bar’s doors functioned. They were typical-looking saloon doors that only allowed the user to enter the bar hands-free, but required to be pulled back upon exiting. So guess what happened when hundreds of scared people attempted to get out once the fire broke loose? They crammed against those doors and there was simply not enough space for to pull the doors back and thus be able to exit. Official estimates say that if the doors would have worked both ways, at least 300 people would have escaped.

5. The Titanic


This is most probably another story that everyone’s familiar with. But fewer people know that what sunk the mighty ship wasn’t the iceberg that collided with it, and not even the lack of boats from the ship’s decks. It was actually the fact that its center propeller didn’t work in reverse, but only the left and right ones did, in order to make the ship make gentler moves through the water. But when the First Officer Murdoch wanted the ship to really reverse fast in order to avoid the iceberg, the only result was, unfortunately, an epic fail.

So beware and do your math right: one little mistake can breed chaos.

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