Over 1.5 million people visit the Willis Tower each year. The tower, formerly known as the Sears tower, is a popular tourist destination in Chicago due in part to the view it offers – a view that is 103 floors above ground. In the Skydeck of the Willis Tower are four clear glass boxes that protrude about four feet out from the building to allow brave souls to step out into one of these glass boxes and see nothing but clear glass between themselves and the bustling city below. The Willis Tower advertises the Skydeck as offering “an unmatched view” of Chicago. The unadvertised offering on Wednesday night was what appeared to be the sound of the glass cracking.
One visitor, Alejandro Garibay, 23, was visiting the Skydeck with two cousins and his brother. As he posed for a picture inside of the glass box, he placed his palms on the floor and told the Chicago Tribune that he “could feel it cracking.” Another member of the group, Tony Saldana, told CBS that after the picture was taken, all four men began to rise. It was in that instant when they heard and felt what sounded like shattering glass. Garibay admitted to feeling “in shock, in disbelief,” and “scared.” He called employees of the Ledge over as soon as he had stepped off of the glass – the same employees with whom he had joked about the boxes before stepping into one. Garibay describes the staff members as “totally shocked.” They reportedly asked his group to step back from the box and began calling the appropriate personnel. When Garibay began shooting video and taking photos on his phone, staff asked his group to leave immediately.
The visitors inside of the boxes were unaware that the cracking sound was a result of the 1/8 of an inch thick protective coating which covers the glass and not the actual glass, according to Willis Tower spokesman, Brian Rehme, which caused consternation and fear for those perched 1,353 feet above the ground. Garibay described the feeling as “crazy.” Rehme assured the public in an email that the cracking of the coating will occasionally occur due to its function as a protective shield over the glass, and that the cracking itself “does not affect the structural integrity” of the glass boxes, also known collectively as “The Ledge.” Rehme stated that the coating will be replaced with no disruption to the normal operating hours of the Skydeck.
Although initially only the ledge with the cracked protective coating was closed, Willis Tower officials closed the other three ledges today in order to perform “routine inspections,” but spokesman Bill Utter expects it to reopen this afternoon after the inspections are complete and the protective coating is replaced. The Skydeck is open all day.
The Ledge first opened in 2009. Each box consists of three half-inch-thick sheets of glass with an invisible coating of resin which are all fastened by bolts to the steel frame at the top of each box. According to the chief of construction when the ledges were first opened, should all three glass layers crack, the floor would still hold. He also stated that the boxes had been tested and could withstand 5 – 10,000 pounds with no ill effect.
By Jennifer Pfalz