The term is most commonly used for structural failures, but has often been extended to many other disciplines where total and irrecoverable loss occurs. Such failures are investigated using the methods of forensic engineering, which aims to isolate the cause or causes of failure. Catostrophic failure is also observed in the steam turbine rotor occuring due to peak stress acting on the rotor and also the stress concentration increases which ultimately leads to the failure of the disc.
Examples of catastrophic failure of engineered structures include:
The Tay Rail Bridge disaster of 1879, where the center half mile of the bridge was completely destroyed while a train was crossing in a storm. The bridge was badly designed and its replacement was built as a separate structure upstream of the old.
The failure of the South Fork Dam in 1889 released 4.8 billion US gallons of water and killed over 2,200 people (popularly known as the Johnstown Flood).
The failure of the St. Francis Dam in 1928 released 12.4 billion US gallons of water (470,000,000 L), resulting in a death toll of near 600 people.
The collapse of the first Tacoma Narrows Bridge of 1940, where the main deck of the road bridge was totally destroyed by dynamic oscillations in a 40 miles per hour (64 km/h) wind.