Experts: Corrosion likely to blame for fatal Ala Moana railing collapse

Experts: Corrosion likely to blame for fatal Ala Moana railing collapse
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
Nicholas Freitas (Image: Rachel Kamai)
Nicholas Freitas (Image: Rachel Kamai)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Construction experts said that railing collapses like the one that killed a 21-year-old man at Ala Moana Center on Sunday are extremely rare and usually involve corrosion.

Nicholas Freitas died Sunday night when he fell several stories from the third level of the center's mauka wing. A longtime friend who also fell is in critical condition.

"Normally what happens is the connections of the building, the guard rails, are weakened and somebody leans against then," said Jim Reinhardt, president of Architectural Diagnostics.

"The most common (cause) we see is water tends to collect in the concrete at the base of the guard rail and then over time that causes the reinforcing to rust and when the reinforcing rusts, the concrete expands."

Hawaii News Now reviewed some of the rails near the center's mauka wing and found some rust on the steel rails and tiny cracks in the concrete base.

It's unclear whether the rust and cracks are impacting the structure. Expert say the best way to test that is by shaking the rails to see if they hold.

"You should be able to have a 200-pound person, a 200-pound load pushing out on it," Reinhardt said.

"If you had a large person who bumped into the railing that wouldn't be anywhere near a 200 pound load. If somebody were to run directly at the hand rail you might exceed the 200 pound load."

Rick Gill, a Spokane, Wash.-based construction and building safety expert, said that while Hawaii law does not require government inspections, it's usually good practice that the owner examine the buildings regularly given the center's age.

"Just like tires on a car have a limited life expectancy, you would be expected to monitor that product or that component within that expected life expectancy and see that it's still structurally sound and functioning," Gill said.

Legal experts said the families of the men who fell four stories have grounds to sue.

"The fact that two individuals fell four stories, that suggests some substantial liability for the Ala Moana Center," said attorney Myles Breiner.

Ala Moana Center General Manager Francis Cofran issued the following statement: "Our hearts go out to the families and all those affected by this tragic event," and that they are working with a structural engineering firm to ensure the "safety and welfare of our customers and employees."

The incident still has shoppers stunned.

"It's really surprising. I thought  ... it would be a little bit more secure but things happen I guess," said Lea Kitamura, of Manoa.

Honolulu police and the city's permitting department are investigating.

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