CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A 40,000-pound scoreboard at the new Charlotte Coliseum collapsed with a 'roar like a jetplane' Friday, less than 24 hours after the $52 million sports and entertainment arena opened for the first time.
Officials said no one was injured in what they called a 'freak accident' but the scoreboard, valued at $3.2 million, was destroyed and the coliseum floor sustained 'substantial damage.'
One workman in the arena when the scoreboard came slamming down about 9 a.m. said he yelled warnings to others as they scurried for safety.
'It just sounded like the building was caving in,' said the workman, who declined to give his name. 'It sounded like the walls were popping.'
'It sounded like the roar of a jetplane,' another worker said. 'I didn't know what it was at first. I just told everybody to run. There were probably 25 people out here when it happened.'
Building architect Gene Bodycott said the giant scoreboard was built to be raised or lowered for sporting events and coliseum workers were hoisting it in place for Thursday night's Carolinas Invitational pre-Olympic basketball game when one of two motors apparently went bad.
The scoreboard tilted, then slammed into the top of the coliseum, came apart and plunged hundreds of feet to the arena floor where workers had been installing the wooden floor for Friday night's basketball game between the U.S. women's team and the Cuban women's team.
Bodycott said the full sequence of events was not immediately clear and the two workers for American Sign and Indicator Co. who were hoisting the sign were too shook up by the collapse to discuss it immediately.
'It was a freak accident,' Bodycott said. 'We don't have the answer to what happened. It's being looked at. That will take some time.'
Coliseum manager Steve Camp said the Cuban women had been scheduled to practice in the arena at 11 a.m. He said workers would remove a portable basketball floor from the old Charlotte Coliseum and install it in the new arena so the game can go on as scheduled.
Camp said an alternate scoreboard will be used for the game.
'I'm disappointed, very disappointed,' he said. 'But we're going to make the best of it. I'm sure there are a lot of people who feel bad, but we've got to make the best of it and turn it around.That's what we intend to do.'
Camp said he and 'a lot of workers' had been out on the floor just before the sign came tumbling down.
'No one was under it and I'm very thankful for that,' he said. 'We can replace signs and basketball courts.'
The coliseum is home to Charlotte's new NBA expansion team, the Hornets, but they are not scheduled to play at home until Oct. 29, Camp said.
He said efforts to replace the damaged basketball court floor and the scoreboard will begin immediately. The wooden floor is worth about $55,000.
Officials from American Sign and Indicator, who still own the sign, were flying to Charlotte to investigate what happened.
The scoreboard, hanging from the ceiling at the center of the round arena, has large viewing screens on several sides to carry simultaneous video broadcasts of the action and instant replays to the audience.
The collapse of the world's heaviest scoreboard occurred one day after the new coliseum opened with a dazzling celebration put on by proud city officials.
A capacity crowd approaching 25,000 -- holding free tickets -- turned out for the grand opening Thursday night. The new coliseum is the largest sports palace of its kind in the Southeast.
First Union Bank Corp. holds exclusive advertising rights for the scoreboard with a multi-million dollar contract with the Hornets, but the advertising panels had not arrived, bank spokesman Marshall Hester said.
Hester said, 'Somebody, somewhere, some architect, is not having a good day today.'