Image 1 of 2 Damage is seen inside Cat Cora’s Kitchen at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020, in Atlanta, after part of the restaurant’s ceiling collapsed. (Sue Nadeau via AP)
It appears that the ceiling was improperly attached, and there are now plans to review construction methods and design plans at other businesses inside the airport, said Tom Nissalke, the airport's assistant general manager for planning and development.
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At a Thursday briefing for reporters, Nissalke described the piece that fell as “a floating ceiling." When asked whether the ceiling was “misattached," Nissalke responded, “that’s how it appears, yes.”
Because of its weight, the structure has to be attached to the rigid roof deck, which is designed to hold the weight, he said.
“It was not attached to the roof deck, based on what we’ve seen thus far,” Nissalke said.
He estimated that the chunk of ceiling that fell weighed 700 to 800 pounds (318 to 363 kilograms) and crashed down as customers ate breakfast inside the restaurant. It had been that way for about the past three and a half years, he said.
Airport officials say they will now delve into the design plans to find out what happened.
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“We’re reviewing drawings that were the permitted drawings, to see exactly what happened and was the construction implemented according to the plans,” Nissalke said.
The ceiling fell in Cat Cora's Kitchen, one of several airport locations opened by celebrity chef Cat Cora, a Jackson, Mississippi native. In 2015, Cora became the first-ever female Iron Chef on the Food Network’s “Iron Chef America."
Cora's business partner, the concession firm that operates the restaurant, said in a statement that it considers the safety of its guests and employees to be deeply important.
“We are currently working with the airport and other partners to fully evaluate the situation, including any potential injuries and/or facility damage," said Regynald Washington, president of Atlanta-based Paradies Lagardère’s dining division.
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The airport's review will extend beyond Cat Cora's Kitchen, Nissalke said, though he wasn't sure Thursday how many businesses that might be. Paradies Lagardère has partnered with Atlanta's airport on many projects and its website lists more than 30 restaurants and shops in the airport.
“We're going to go ahead and review all the other drawings associated with this concessionaire just to see if a similar situation exists," Nissalke said. “We are going to be reviewing all those other spaces."
The concession company has restaurants and stores in dozens of U.S. airports, according to its website. It lists more than two dozen shops and restaurants in several major airports, including Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina, Detroit Metropolitan Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.
In a statement from her publicist, Cora said that she was awakened Thursday morning by a call from her partners at Paradies Lagardère informing her of what had happened.
“We are working with our airport team very closely to assess the situation," Cora said.
“Above all, we just want to make sure everyone involved is ok," she said.
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One person asked to be transported to a hospital, airport officials said. A second person was treated at the scene and then continued on with travel plans, Nissalke said.
There are many companies involved in designing and building restaurants and other establishments inside the airport. Businesses known as concessionaires lease space from the city of Atlanta, then typically prepare a design and construct the restaurant or store using architects, engineers and contractors, Nissalke said.
Photos on social media showed workers in orange vests inspecting the scene on one side of the fallen ceiling chunk, as airport travelers stood on the other side.
There was no impact on operations at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, authorities said. The airport calls itself the world's busiest, averaging 275,000 passengers daily.
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