September 24, 2002
Two die in collapse of
1,964-foot TV tower
BY PAUL HAMMEL
ALLIANCE, Neb. - Don Jespersen was windrowing a field of millet about
noon Tuesday when, like many days, he just happened to glance toward the
1,964-foot television tower that has stood near his farm for 34 years.
It was a sickening sight.
Before his eyes, almost in slow motion, the tower toppled to the earth.
A center section leaned over. A tall antenna on top dropped straight
"It seemed like forever it was falling," Jespersen said in a telephone
interview. "You immediately think of the World Trade Center. It just
sent shivers up my back."
Two workers from a company hired to strengthen the tower were killed.
Three other workers, not on the tower, suffered minor injuries. One was
a tower worker. The others were roofers from a Scottsbluff, Neb.,
company working atop a building at the base of the tower.
A small grass fire, ignited by electrical wires severed in the collapse,
was extinguished soon after rescue crews from Alliance and Hemingford,
Neb., arrived. Vehicles parked near the tower were crushed.
There was no initial word on what caused the tower to collapse. It was
fitted with new support cables a year ago.
A spokesman for Duhamel Broadcasting Enterprises of Rapid City, S.D.,
which owns the tower, said the company president and the president of
the firm working on the tower were traveling to the scene.
"If there's been injuries or fatalities, we're deeply saddened for their
families and the companies they work for," said Monte Loos, operations
manager for Duhamel.
The tower, in a remote pasture about 22 miles northwest of Alliance,
broadcasts the signal for Scottsbluff television station KDUH.
The Scottsbluff station said the tower was the tallest structure in
Nebraska and one of the tallest in the world, more than 500 feet taller
than the Sears Tower in Chicago and 700 feet taller than the Empire
State Building in New York City.
Officials with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration
were notified of the accident.
Loos said a McLean, Va., company, SST, was hired to strengthen the tower
prior to the installation of a new high-definition television antenna.
A group of subcontractors was hired to do the work. Loos said he did not
know the name of those firms.
He said the tower was erected in 1968 and had experienced no structural
Four years ago, seven men and one woman were arrested for parachuting
off the tower.
Jespersen, 46, said he saw that stunt, and an earlier group parachute
off the tower, while doing farm chores.
"That was a much more pleasant thing to see than what I saw today," he
Jespersen drove his combine a half-mile, then raced to the scene in his
He used a cell phone to telephone for help and called his wife, Joni,
and sister-in-law, Barbara Jespersen, to bring blankets for the injured.
Among those at the tower's base, Jespersen said, was the fiancee of one
of the tower workers.
"She was pretty shaken," he said.
One of the roofers jumped off the building he was working on to avoid
the falling cables. The second stayed on the roof and was struck in the
foot by a falling cable.
"It was a miracle they weren't killed," Jespersen said.
He said he had watched workers erect the tower back in 1968 and had
wondered several times, during heavy winds or ice storms, if the tower
Tuesday's weather was clear and calm.
"When the wind was blowing hard, you could hear the tower,'' Jespersen
said. "It wasn't like blowing over a pop bottle but you could sure hear
the noise. But I never thought it would fall down on a clear day."
The fatalities were the second and third of the year involving tower
accidents in Nebraska.
A worker from Mississippi died in April when a cable snapped near the
top of a broadcasting tower near Bassett, Neb.
73 de Jim Thompson - w3lap