Berkeley balcony collapse that killed six Irish students was caused by 'rotting' wood beams

An inspection found the balcony's wooden supports failed during a 21st birthday party, throwing the 13 people standing on it 40ft to the ground

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The balcony collapse that killed six Irish students in California last week was caused by “rot and decay” in wooden supports, an investigation has found.

Olivia Burke, Eimear Walsh, Eoghan Culligan, Niccolai Schuster and Lorcan Miller, all 21, died after they were thrown four floors to the ground during a friend’s birthday party in the university city of Berkeley.

Ms Burke’s cousin, 22-year-old Ashley Donohoe from California, also died in the tragedy on 16 June.

Cousins Olivia Burke, 21, and Ashley Donohoe, 22, had a joint memorial in California

City investigators released an initial report into the cause as their funerals continued in Dublin.

After a week-long investigation, they found that the balcony’s supports failed shortly after midnight, causing it to swivel 90 degrees and slam into the wall below, throwing off 13 people who fell 40ft down to the pavement.

The seven party-goers who survived were hospitalised with severe injuries but are expected to recover.

Alex Roshal, manager of the city’s building and safety division, was among the inspectors that arrived two hours later.

“(We) observed that the cantilevered balcony joists had completely sheared off” the outside of the building, he wrote in his report.

The exposed supports were “severely dry rotted” and the fallen balcony was resting on the one below, surrounded by debris.

The structure, built of a concrete slab over hardboard, waterproof sheets and wooden joists, complied with regulations at the time of construction in 2006.

Berkeley's director of planning and development, Eric Angstadt, told reporters at City Hall that the balcony as designed should have been able to bear the students' weight.

“I believe from our review of the plans the balcony was constructed to handle the load that was supposedly on it,” he said.

“The design seemed to be certainly to code to support...the load.”

Workmen examine the damage at the scene of the collapse in Berkeley

Mr Angstadt said a lack of ventilation inside the balcony structure was “possibly” the cause of dampness that led to the dry rot.

Other balconies in the Library Gardens building were closed during the investigation but have now reopened.

The nine-page report, based on observations and inspection of the balcony, did not reach a conclusion about the underlying cause of the rot and forensic examination and laboratory tests will continue.

Changes to Berkeley’s building code recommended by the inspectors would make new balconies subject to stricter requirements on materials, inspection and ventilation.

Eimear Walsh was buried in Dublin

Compulsory inspections would be introduced for all new and existing balconies in the city within six months of the measures being improved and every five years afterwards to check they are safe.

A joint mass was held in for Ms Burke and Ms Donohoe, who had joint US-Irish citizenship, in California on Saturday.

A statement from their family said: “We will fight to make changes so that no family will ever have to go through what we have gone through in the last five days.”

It added: “Our daughters and the rest of these students were responsible young adults that were celebrating their friend's 21st birthday in what they felt was a safe environment.

"Unfortunately that turned tragic through no fault of their own."

Mourners attend the funeral of Eoghan Culligan at the Church of the Annunciation, in Dublin on Tuesday

Ms Walsh and Mr Culligan were buried on Tuesday and singer Hozier played the final song at Ms Burke's funeral in Dublin earlier today.

Mr Schuster was also buried this morning and Mr Miller’s funeral will take place on Thursday.

The students had only been in California for a few weeks and were taking part in the J1 visa programme, considered a rite of passage for thousands of young Irish people every year.

Additional reporting by Reuters