Thursday, January 10, 2013

Hardhats Flee as Crane Tumbles at Queens Construction Site

Seven construction workers were hurt after a 380-foot mobile crane collapsed onto a Long Island City jobsite Wednesday afternoon. Ambulances hurried to the giant Eastcoast project under construction by TF Cornerstone, along 46th Avenue and Center Boulevard, to assist the injured. The crane belongs to New York Crane, whose owner, James Lomma, was acquitted of criminally negligent homicide charges stemming from a 2008 crane collapse on the Upper East Side that killed two workers. The accident happened directly behind the famous Pepsi-Cola sign on the shore of the East River just south of the Queensboro Bridge.

The construction crane, owned by a firm with a checkered past, collapsed onto the waterfront jobsite pinning three workers and injuring four others. The crane toppled at the site of the luxury Eastcoast development at 46th Avenue and Center Boulevard, part of the Queens West mega-project in Long Island City about 2:20 p.m., authorities said.

Three workers were trapped under the heavy metal apparatus, but there were no life-threatening injuries, Deputy Fire Chief Mark Ferran said. “Seven people have been injured. Four suffered minor injuries, while three were seriously hurt."

Workers said they heard cables snap and watched the 380-foot red crane buckle high in the air. “It came down fast,” said laborer Russell Roberson, 32. “I heard guys yelling, ‘Run!’ You didn’t know what the f--- was going to happen.” “You didn’t know which way the thing was going to go.

"I was this close to death,” said Preston White, a carpenter who narrowly escaped harm. “Everybody was scrambling.”

Workers said the crane was erected just four days previously. It crashed into scaffolding and plywood at the site directly behind the iconic Pepsi sign on the shore of the East River. The building under construction will be the last of several luxury towers to rise at the Queens West site.

“The crane cut through it like a hot knife through butter,” White said. Investigators were trying to determine Wednesday what caused the collapse, authorities said.

A truck driver said workers were loading the crane with wood planks when the accident occurred. The machine was stationed at ground level, not lashed to a building. Following the collapse, workers went looking for their pals. “We were searching to searching to see who was around,” Roberson said, adding that about 70 people were at the site. “We were calling out names. If you didn’t hear the guy’s name you searched for them — it was terrifying.”

Two of the injured workers were taken to New York-Presbyterian Cornell Hospital and five to Elmhurst Hospital Center. The five workers at Elmhurst, men ages 23 to 55, were expected to leave the hospital Wednesday, a hospital spokesperson said.

Subcontractor Cross Country Construction was carrying out the work. However, the crane belongs to New York Crane, whose owner, James Lomma, was acquitted of criminally negligent homicide charges stemming from a 2008 crane collapse on the Upper East Side that killed two workers.

New York Crane is one of the largest crane operators in the city, and the Manitowoc 4100W tractor crane that collapsed Wednesday was last approved for use by the city last in October. Built in 1992, the crane has a 380-foot boom and jib and is the same make and model as a crane that collapsed last April at the No. 7 subway extension jobsite, killing a worker.

Federal investigators alleged that the hoist wire on that crane snapped during operation because it was worn out. An employee at New York Crane said, declined to answer questions, saying, “We’re very busy right now.”

The FDNY searched the site and said everyone is accounted for. One worker said that he saw a man try to jump out of the way of the falling crane, but became trapped. A co-worker said the victim was "not looking good."

Video at taken immediately after the collapse shows the fallen boom lying across the length of a building under construction. Department of Buildings officials issued a stop-worker order at the site while engineers and inspectors investigate what happened.

Neighboring buildings are already completed and occupied. Property developer TF Cornerstone is cooperating with authorities, it said in a statement.

An inside source said TF Cornerstone was unaware that Cross Country had leased the equipment from New York Crane. “We’re aware of the situation,” Cross Country said Wednesday, declining to comment further.
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