January 13, 2012

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Student hero recalls bleacher collapse

By Tom Campbell

The old Purdue University Fieldhouse was packed on the night of Monday, Feb. 24, 1947.  Some 11,000 fans had squeezed inside the building now called Lambert Fieldhouse to watch the Boilermakers take on the Wisconsin Badgers in a basketball showdown for first place in the Big Ten Conference. 

When the teams headed to their locker rooms after the first half, the bleachers on the east side of the gym suddenly buckled and collapsed, sending 3,400 fans crashing to the floor.

William Waters and his friends, Warner Fisher and Joe Hatfield, were on those bleachers that night. The trio avoided significant injury by lifting their feet as the bleachers began to collapse. Others weren’t so fortunate. Three students were killed and some 200 others were injured.

Many hurried to assist the victims, including Waters, who provided aid to a fellow student by pulling a piece of splintered wood from her leg and carrying her away from the rubble.

The unique lifetime friendships forged at Purdue by Waters, Fisher, Hatfield and E. C. Bashaw in the days leading up to and immediately following World War II will be featured in the next issue of Purdue Agriculture Connections. It will be available Feb. 2 at http://www.agriculture.purdue.edu/connections/.

But you can hear about the fateful night in the Purdue Fieldhouse in the words of one of the survivors himself, William Waters.

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