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Willis Tower cracks frighten tourists, but officials say no one was in danger

By Steve Almasy, CNN
updated 1:43 PM EDT, Sat May 31, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Tower's Facebook page says new protective coating installed on one ledge
  • The integrity of the structure not harmed, spokesman says
  • The cracking came in a protective layer that prevents scratches on the glass
  • Five tourists got out of the bay as fast as they could when they saw the lines in the coating

(CNN) -- A protective coating on a glass sightseeing box that extends from the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower in Chicago cracked Wednesday night, but officials said no one was ever in danger.

Tourist Alejandro Garibay and four of his family members were standing in one of the glass boxes that jut out from the side of the tower when they heard a strange, worrisome noise below them.

Visitors who step into one of the Ledge boxes at the Willis Tower in Chicago can see for 50 miles across four states. A protective coating on the glass cracked on Wednesday, May 28, but officials say visitors were never in danger. Click through this gallery to see more daring viewing platforms around the world:
Visitors who step into one of the Ledge boxes at the Willis Tower in Chicago can see for 50 miles across four states. A protective coating on the glass cracked on Wednesday, May 28, but officials say visitors were never in danger. Click through this gallery to see more daring viewing platforms around the world:
Willis Tower, Chicago
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"I looked down and I could see it cracking and lines going through the glass so we immediately just jumped off as fast as we could," Garibay told CNN affiliate WGN.

A Willis Tower spokesman Bill Utter clarified Thursday that it was a protective coating, not glass, that cracked -- as it sometimes does.

"At no time whatsoever was the integrity of the structure compromised," he said.

The ledges are designed to hold 5 tons, and the coating keeps the glass from being scratched.

"The protective layer did exactly what it was supposed to do," Utter said.

The four Skydeck ledges are a series of clear bays with glass floors that extend a little more than 4 feet from the building. Visitors can see the street 1,353 feet below their feet. According to the Skydeck website, each bay is made from three layers of half-inch thick glass.

Visitors who step into one of the boxes can see for 50 miles across four states.

Since 2009, 6 million people have ventured into the ledges, which retract into the tower when the windows need cleaning.

The ledges were closed for some time Thursday, but the Skydeck viewing area on the 103rd floor was open.

Around 7 p.m., Willis Tower's Facebook page indicated that "the new protective coating on Ledge 4 has been installed."

"Skydeck Chicago is open, including the other three unaffected Ledges, and Ledge 4 will be back open tomorrow," the post added alongside photos of workers at the scene.

The Hancock Building nearby has a new glass observation feature, but visitors hold on to handrails as the section tilts out about 1,000 feet above the city streets.

7 things to know about Chicago

CNN's John Newsome, Greg Botelho and Christie Bear contributed to this report.

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