Nobody’s perfect. Human error is almost inevitable. However, some large screw-ups can end up costing shed loads of cash. Here are some of the most expensive mistakes in history which should make you feel slightly better about your own slip-ups…
10. Seongsu Bridge Collapse
The Seongsu bridge over the Han River links two South Korean districts. It is one of Seoul’s most popular commuter routes.
The 3805-foot structure was struck by disaster on the morning of October 21st, 1994. The bridge struggled under the weight of the hundreds of people on their way to work in the early morning rush. Later, at around 7:40 am a 157-foot central chunk collapsed 65-feet into the river below along with cars, minibusses and a fully loaded bus.
In the end, 32 people lost their lives while 17 more were injured. An investigation was launched into the freak accident. The bridge had already received complaints about unstable foundations which caused an unsteady swinging sensation. The root cause was identified as a construction failure. Reports noted that the steel trestle joints supporting the central suspension had been welded with an incorrect thickness of 8 mm rather than 10 mm. As a result of that, the crucial connecting ‘pins’ broke under the huge pressure.
Although the bridge was designed to withstand a maximum of 36.3-tonne weight per car, vehicles weighing 47.3-tonnes were also using the bridge to commute. These combined factors cost the State Council $185,000 in compensation to the victims. Meanwhile, a complete rebuild set them back the equivalent of an extra $2 million, making this one costly human error.
9. Deadly Skyscrapers
In Spring 2014, London welcomed an ambitious new skyscraper to its financial district. The 525-foot-tall reflective building became known as the ‘walkie-talkie’ due to its distinctive curved design.
However, this shiny new tower was hiding a dark secret. As summer came around, citizens of London began complaining that the buildings south-facing concave surface was causing strong rays of sunlight at certain points in the day which could raise the temperature to an unheard-of 70°c.
The highly concentrated beam was capable of melting tiles. Moreover, it caused a small fire on the doormat of a barbershop. It also melted a Jaguar XJ belonging to a local businessman. One journalist even attempted to fry an egg in the extreme heat. The newly-nicknamed ‘walkie-scorchie’ had to be stopped, so a permanent sunshade known as a ‘brise soleil’ was attached to the building between the 3rd-34th floors over the course of 6 months.
Finally, it cost over $12million –a hard pill to swallow considering the building already cost over $250 million to build. Ironically, the architect Rafael Viñolyalso designed the Vidara Hotel in Las Vegas which suffered a similar problem as it singed sunbathers That earned it the nickname the “death ray”.
Viñoly confessed that he knew this would happen. However, he said he didn’t have the tools to analyze just how bad it would be. Someone needs to tell this guy to stop designing superweapons instead of buildings.
8. Lotus Riverside Disaster
The lotus riverside complex in Shanghai was an ambitious project. But it ended in a complete disaster due to one simple mistake. The residential complex consists of 11 new high-rise apartment blocks. However, at around 5 am on 27th June 2009 one of the 13-story buildings suddenly collapsed. Luckily, it somehow missed the surrounding blocks. Thus avoiding a devastating domino effect.
The incident killed just one construction worker. The fallout could’ve been much worse if the almost complete building had been occupied by its buyers. Investigations found that the freak accident was caused by non-compliance with construction standards and some seriously shoddy foundations.
Earth beneath the building was excavated to make a 15-foot underground car park and the soil had been piled up 32-feet on a nearby riverbank. It then burst under the pressure, sending water gushing beneath.
These muddy foundations caused the building to topple over to the south. Simply moving the earth elsewhere could’ve prevented the whole ordeal. This massive oversight caused a number of project investors to withdraw and request their money back. The company suffered total economic losses of up to $30 million. That includes construction costs and compensation to the would-be homeowners of the $2,100-per-square-meter apartments.
7. Lake Peigneur Disaster
In 1980, a drilling exhibition done by Texaco triggered a cataclysmic series of events that turned an 11-foot-deep freshwater body of water in Louisiana known as Lake Peigneur into a 1,300-foot-deep saltwater lake.
On November 20th, a $5 million oil rig owned by drilling contractor Wilson Brothers accidentally damaged the dome of the underground Diamond Crystal Salt Mine due to a miscalculation by Texaco regarding their exact location.
Around 13 billion liters of water were drained from the lake, washing salt, soil and water into an immersible and ever-widening hole. It created a powerful vortex sucking in the drilling platform, 11 barges, a tugboat, 65 acres of terrain and even a small island in the center of the lake. The ensuing chaos destroyed most evidence of the accident as air escaping from the mine caused 400-foot geysers. Moreover, the Delcambre canal reversed direction to flow into the whirlpool.
Luckily, no one was killed. But the real casualty was Texaco’s pride. And their wallet, as the company paid $32 million to Diamond Crystal salt mine and $12.8 million to a nearby plant nursery. That makes Lake Peigneur perhaps the most expensive man-made lake in history – setting Texaco and Wilson Brothers back over the equivalent of $140 million today.
6. The Baltic Ace
Big mistakes can happen anywhere, as proven by the Baltic Ace carrier ship which sank in just 15 minutes in the North Sea on December 5th, 2012.
The 23,500-tonne ship was lost 65km off the Dutch coast after colliding with Cyprian container ship the Corvus J. The accident killed 11 of its 24 crew members. Moreover, it sank over 1,400 new Mitsubishi cars that were being brought from Japan and Tokyo to Russia.
The wreck ended up almost 100-feet-deep in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, hindering a safe passage for marine traffic and risking the release of dangerous substances into the environment. In March 2014, the company Rijkswaterstaat hired partners Boskalis and Mammoet Salvage to remove the wreckage.
They began by extracting its 540,000 liters of oil it has left. More than 18 ships and 150 people then took part in a huge operation to remove the sunken vessel. That could only be done by lifting the irreparably damaged wreck in chunks. Starting in April 2015, the ship was cut into 8 and bought to the surface in pieces. Look at just how huge it was. Here’s the bow, with all the cars inside ruined.
Dutch police were unable to investigate the accident itself as it occurred outside of their territorial waters. However, the mistake has since been speculated as a result of pure human error, as neither ship followed collision regulations. The mammoth salvage operation alone cost 67 million euros, the equivalent of around 75 million dollars today. Add that to the cost of the Baltic ace, and the cost to repair the Corvus J, as well as the cargo they were carrying. So finally the driving error cost around $150 million in total.
5. Mars Climate Orbiter
In September 1999, NASA’s 638-kilogram robotic space probe the Mars Climate Orbiter burned up and broke into pieces as it neared its destination after 10 long months of traveling. The orbiter was made to study the climate of Mars. The reason for its failure to even touch ground lay entirely with the people who sent it into space to begin with.
The navigation team at Jet Propulsion Lab had used metric units – measuring in millimeters and meters – to indicate the planned altitude of the spacecraft. However, Lockheed Martin Astronautics in Denver Colorado used imperial measurements in inches and feet and crucially failed to recognize that the measurements required conversion. As a result, the trajectory of the climate orbiter is estimated to have been dangerously within 57 km of the planet’s surface. It skipped violently upon entry and was soon destroyed.
This huge error was responsible for the failure of the entire mission. The mission, worth just over $328 million in 1999 was lost forever. Adjusted for inflation, that’s the equivalent of over half a billion dollars. I guess it pays to stick to one measurement system.
4. The S-81 Isaac Peral
Mistakes are easily made. It’s often too late to rectify them by the time someone notices. But that wasn’t exactly the case with Spain’s supposedly state-of-the-art submarine the S-81 Isaac Peral.
The submarine started production in 2013 as part of a new quartet for the Spanish navy. There’s just one problem with its modern design – once it’s submerged, the Isaac Peral may never be able to resurface again.
This is because a shocking flaw in its design: the ship is around 75-100 tonnes overweight. That means Spain has in fact invested in a submarine which can only move in one direction… down. The mistake is said to have been a result of a pesky decimal point placed in the wrong place during calculations. It’s a single dot that could cost an extra $9.7 million per meter of the hull which is extended to regain its balance.
Given $680 million has already been invested in this single ship as part of a total $3 billion for all four subs, this is hardly a screw-up that can be brushed under the rug. Although the S-81 is now estimated to join the Spanish fleet in 2020 – it’s unclear whether it’ll ever see the light of day…literally.
3. Berlin Brandenburg Airport
Berlin Brandenburg Airport – designed and built to mark Germany’s reunification after the fall of the Berlin wall – is set to be the third busiest in Germany and one of the fifteen busiest in Europe.
It’s fitted with modern terminals, bold structures and even a working railway station. However, not a single passenger has ever passed through its gates. The multi-billion-dollar airport was supposed to open in 2012, but all you’ll find there nowadays are operating baggage tracks with no bags and a single ‘ghost-train’ kept running to encourage airflow – but why? The global financial crisis of 2007-8 reduced chances of contractor and investor involvement. So various politicians pitched in using public money with conflicting ideas.
At one point, the capacity inside the terminal building was doubled after construction had already begun. After the airport company realized the designer had not accounted for any shopping whole new retail floors were ordered. After such setbacks, invitations for the grand opening were sent out in 2012, but the ceremony was canceled after the entire fire-prevention system was found to be inoperable.
A re-evaluation of the airport by officials discovered 550,000 faults that needed fixing before it could be considered for use, from incorrect lightbulbs to entire cable systems installed wrong. With millions spent each month to maintain the disused building, the airport has now cost upwards of $6.5 billion – over three times its original budget.
2. The Vasa
This monumental mistake dates back to 1624 when the Swedish king ordered one of the most spectacular warships the world has ever seen. The Vasa – a new flagship of the Swedish navy – was unveiled on 10th August 1628. But to the horror of thousands of excited onlookers, it barely left Stockholm’s bay before it sank 105 feet below the surface. With the first gust of wind the warship immediately capsized.
It humiliated the King who blamed the long-dead designer Henrik Hybertsson for its failures. In the ‘Kings Currency’ the ship cost more than 200,000 Rex Dollars to build – which amounted to over 5% of Sweden’s gross national product for the year. In other words, 1/20th of the nation’s annual income suddenly lay at the bottom of the Stockholm harbor. If the equivalent percentage of Sweden’s GNP was spent on a single ship today, that would equal 25.6 billion dollars! Lengthy recovery of The Vasa began in 1956 and continued until 1990 when the restored 17th-century ship was displayed in The Vasa museum in 98% of its original glory.
Although official salvage costs were unrecorded and partly funded by the navy, modern estimates for the recovery of a ship of its size are between $55-110 million. That makes it one of the most expensive mistakes in history. The worst part is that archaeological examination suggests that poor design was in fact to blame, as the gun deck was far too heavy.
1. Sale of Alaska
If you’re selling something, you should probably be 100% sure that there’s no value left in it for you first – and the sale of Alaska should be enough to prove it. Alaska was originally owned by Russia and had been a fairly lucrative source for fur as well as tea and ice. However, in 1867 the Russian emperor Alexander ll no longer saw any profit in keeping the territory. Harsh weather conditions made it hard to farm and its distance meant it was hard to protect from invasion, so Russia settled an agreement to sell the region to the US for $7.2 million.
At first, the Americans thought nothing of Alaska either. However, in 1896 a major gold deposit was discovered in the Yukon; signaling its true potential as a gateway to a plethora of natural resources like oil and gold.
As the ratio of the Russian Ruble to the dollar was almost equal back then, not much profit was gained from the sale. However, the US has earned its share back 100 times over. Economists now estimate the value of its oil and gas reserves alone to be worth around $200 billion. That means this is the most expensive mistake that definitely has the Russian emperor turning in his grave.
So, whats the most expensive mistake you’ve ever made. And how does it compare? Which one of these terrible and most expensive mistakes made you face palm the hardest? Let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading!