Witness recalls 1981 Cocoa Beach condo collapse

COCOA BEACH, Fla. — Kent Fey remembers the smog, the smell and the sound of that fateful day in 1981.

He was feet away when the five-story Harbour Cay condominiums that were under construction in Cocoa Beach collapsed.

“In so many ways, it seems like eons ago, but there are certain things, certain facets about it that it seems like yesterday,” he said.

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Fey was working as a lifeguard at Fischer Park when he heard the building come crashing down.

“I looked up from the direction they came from and literally saw Harbor Cay going like an accordion, straight down,” he said.

In all, 11 construction workers died and 23 were injured in the collapse that day in March 1981.

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The investigation into the collapse revealed design errors by the engineers, which led to more strict regulations in both design and construction.

State law was enacted that required structural engineers and inspectors to go through a qualification program to ensure integrity during construction so that a tragedy like this wouldn’t happen again.

Fey said while he doesn’t want to relive that day, he feels it is important to talk about what happened.

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“Actually, because I think people have to understand that cutting corners is not acceptable. Putting people at risk is not acceptable,” he said.

Just as in the case 40 years ago, the Champlain Towers South collapse in Surfside could prompt changes in Florida’s building regulations.

The events that day would lead Fey to join Brevard County Fire Rescue, where he would serve the citizens for the next 37 years.

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It is that experience that gives him an appreciation for what rescuers are feeling and what drives them to keep going.

“It takes a special person to do what they’re doing. Unless they have a danger or they’re specifically told to get out or stop,they’re not going to,” he said.

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Matt Reeser

Matt Reeser, WFTV.com

Matt Reeser joined WFTV in 1998 as a news photographer and has worked for television stations in Kentucky and West Virginia.