The Jumbotron that wowed spectators when the Sabres season opened in the Marine Midland Arena five weeks ago was hauled off center ice Saturday, a few hours after crashing into a heap of steel and aluminum strewn across the width of the hockey rink.
No one was injured when the 20-ton blue-colored scoreboard began lurching 40 feet above the rink before falling and splattering on the ice.
"It was incredible," said one arena worker who witnessed the crash. "It was like a loud groan, and then another groan, and another, and then it dropped."
"It sounded like a thousand train cars coming, and then an earthquake," said a co-worker. "I'm still shaking," she said several hours after the crash.
The crash forced cancellation of Saturday night's game against the Boston Bruins, but the arena was scheduled to reopen today for a 2 p.m. show by the Royal Lipizzaner Stallions. The Sabres are scheduled to play at home Thursday night. The team will be there. The scoreboard will not.
he $4.5 million Jumbotron was being lowered to the ground for routine maintenance at about 3 p.m. Saturday, a few hours before the scheduled hockey game between the Sabres and the Bruins.
"It was a routine pregame check, adjusting lights before the game," said Sabres President Lawrence W. Quinn. "We've probably done it hundreds of times. We take the scoreboard down to check it over before every game."
An arena worker was standing in the rafters of the building, far above the 23-foot-tall sign, when he began electronically lowering the Jumbotron with the push of a signal button.
Before the scoreboard began to drop, an alarm went off as planned, letting everyone in the arena know the Jumbotron was coming down and that they should get off the ice.
But within seconds of the scoreboard starting to drop, it became apparent there was a malfunction. Two of several cables holding up the scoreboard were releasing much faster than the others. The scoreboard dropped a few feet, then went out of balance and started descending on an angle.
Much of the structure began slipping, in fits and starts, and within seconds, a large portion crashed to the ice.
Two panels of the eight-sided scoreboard were left hanging in midair, apparently undamaged. But the rest of the Jumbotron was either dangling or on the rink.
"It's a total loss in that we have to reconstruct the whole scoreboard," Quinn said, "but parts of it may be salvageable."
By 6 p.m. Saturday, a demolition crew had removed much of the scoreboard from the ice. The Sabres organization determined the ice surface needed only minor repair. It was fixed by applying water, Quinn said. The cooling system in the arena was not damaged. None of the other systems in the arena was damaged, he said.
The debris from the scoreboard will be searched and examined to determine if any can be reused and also to help determine what caused the accident, Sabres officials said.
"We're not sure what caused it," Quinn said. "Apparently a cable broke or the winch that lowers the cable broke. The device malfunctioned."
Quinn stressed the accident could not have happened during a game, or any other event, because the scoreboard is never moved during an event.
"This cannot happen when the scoreboard is not moving," Quinn said.
The incident at Marine Midland Area is similar to an accident that occurred in 1988 at the Coliseum in Charlotte, N.C., home to the Hornets basketball team. In that incident, the Jumbotron crashed to floor just 13 days after the new facility was dedicated.
The Coliseum scoreboard crashed to the floor while workers were lowering it to install advertising panels. No one was on the floor at the time, and there were no injuries.
That accident was blamed on a motor malfunction, according to a report in the Charlotte Observer. That scoreboard was owned by American Sign & Indicator Corp. of Spokane, Wash.
The Sabres scoreboard was constructed by Daktronics, a Brookings, S.D., firm that was described by the Sabres as one of the nation's major manufacturers of arena scoreboards.
Daktronics officials were expected in Buffalo today. There was no answer at the company headquarters Saturday night.
"Once Charlotte happened, we wanted to make sure that doesn't happen here," Quinn said. "We had the system checked. I don't have any idea how it happened."
"I spoke to the manufacturer tonight," he added. "I reiterated to them that this isn't supposed to happen. They said, 'You're damn right; it isn't supposed to happen.' "
The scoreboard cost about $4.5 million, and damage was initially estimated Saturday at $3 million by Quinn.
The Sabres organization was confidant insurance will cover the damage.
"Our insurance is going to cover it, one way or another," said Daniel J. DiPofi, executive vice-president of operations. "Either our construction insurance or our contractor insurance.
"I'm sure there will be some arguing about it, over whose fault it was," DiPofi added.
The Jumbotron scoreboard will be replaced, Quinn said, but it is not known how long it will take to get a new one.
It could take months, however, he said, the Sabres are also trying to find out about getting a temporary scoreboard until the replacement can be obtained.
Meanwhile, there are auxiliary scoreboards on the sides of the arena. While that won't offer the instant replay and crowd shots on the Jumbotron, it will tell fans the score.While relieved that no one was injured in Saturday's accident, Sabres officials were saddened by the accident, which marred an otherwise steady stream of good reviews since the Marine Midland Arena opened Sept. 21.