Ledges at Willis Tower reopen after protective coating cracks
By Dane Placko, FOX 32 News Investigative Reporter - bio | email
CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -
One of the glass enclosures known as "The Ledge" that sticks out of Willis Tower cracked under the feet of a California family.
Cousins Alejando Garibay of California and Tony Saldana of Crest Hill went downtown Wednesday night with two other family members for what was supposed to be a pleasant night of sightseeing.
After Millennium Park, the Bean and a dinner of stuffed pizza, the foursome paid a visit to the Willis Tower Skydeck.
"I thought it would be neat to take them up there. It'd be a different experience, said Tony.
Different doesn't begin to describe what happened to them moments after taking a group picture on one of the glass platforms jutting out of the 103rd floor.
"When I put my hand down to push myself and stand up, I hear it and I feel the glass just crack. I felt on my palm all these little pieces of glass," said Alejandro.
Tony chimed in, "And that's when we see it just splatters, started cracking all the way through. And that's the moment all of us just got up, freaked out and bounced out of there."
After alerting a stunned observation deck worker, the cousins took out their cellphones to document what just happened.
"I remember heavily breathing, then I hugged my cousin Tony like 'oh my God we're alive," said David Cazares, Tony’s cousin.
Willis Tower spokesman Bill Utter said the cracking was actually in a scratch-resistant coating on the glass structure, and did not affect the structural integrity of the box.
“Occasionally this happens, but that’s because we designed it this way,” he said. “Whatever happened last night is a result of the protective coating doing what it’s designed to.”
But by Thursday morning, the Ledge platform in the northwest corner of Willis Tower was closed to tourists — the glass covered by carpeting. The apparent “cracks” in the platform could be seen only when workers lifted the carpet for inspections.
During one such visit, building employees pushed back curious tourists trying to get a look at the cracks.
When asked why The Ledge was closed, one worker said she didn’t know. Another simply said it was “unavailable.”
Utter said the coating has cracked before. Generally, he said, a visitor has something sharp in his pocket or hand that shatters the coating, although Utter did not know what prompted the cracks Wednesday night.
Eventually, all four platforms were closed to the public Thursday morning. Utter said it was for “routine inspection.” That pleased Heather Rost of St. Louis.
“I think they should close and then … re-inspect all of them and re-enforce or something, personally, after a crack,” Rost said.
But Aaron Plantilla and his girlfriend, Charlene Crisostomo of Tinley Park, were mad they couldn’t go out on the Ledge — even after hearing what happened to the Garibay family.
“I don’t care,” Plantilla said. “I still want to go there.”
Buildings Commissioner Felicia Davis said she dispatched inspectors to the Willis Tower on Thursday to inspect both the structure and the glass.
She also reviewed the inspection records that culminated in the original permit to build The Ledge after what Davis called “extensive engineering and structural studies” on the building itself and the materials to be used.
“The public was never at risk. The integrity of the structure was never compromised. There is this additional layer on top that is intended to take the scrapes and scratches from routine use by the public. That coating on the glass cracked,” Davis said.
“The management team has been in communication with me and they’ve been very cooperative. They need to make the appropriate repairs — replace the partial glass structure and the coating that was damaged. The attraction will remain closed while the investigation continues and repair plans are finalized” and inspected by the city.
Davis said she won’t know what caused the cracks until the management company that runs Willis Tower completes its investigation.
Although Twitter photos of the cracks look frightening, Davis stressed that she is “not concerned” about either the integrity of the structure or the risk to the public. The Ledge was only closed, she said, “out of extreme caution.”
Even as news of the alleged “cracks” spread — tourists could be heard talking openly about them on the Willis Tower Skydeck — several visitors echoed Plantilla’s indifference to them. Kay Chen, of Taiwan, said she works for an airline.
“I don’t fear anything,” she said.
And Kirsten Flodstrom, a fourth-grade teacher from Champaign who helped bring about 70 children on a field trip to Chicago and up to the Skydeck, said she wasn’t worried, either.
“I trust the architecture,” Flodstrom said.
But Heidi and Hal Shute, of South Carolina, visited with their two small children — a 2 1/2-year-old and and 8-month-old — and their nanny, Jenna Brown.
Brown and Heidi Shute’s eyes went wide when they heard what happened to the Alenjandro Garibay family. They said they might still go out on the Ledge.
It was a different story for the kids.
“No probably about it,” Heidi Shute said. “They will not be going on the Ledge.”
The cracked observation box was repaired when the area reopened Friday morning.
The Sun Times Media Wire contributed to this story.