Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Risked Their Lives to Protect Others from Dangling Crane

When danger loomed high above the streets of New York City last October, Michael Alacha and Timothy Lynch, very much like superheroes, vaulted upward under adverse conditions and thwarted the menace. As Hurricane Sandy lashed the city with 80-mile-per-hour winds, the pair quickly assessed the damage to a snapped construction-crane boom atop One57. Alacha (whose home in the Rockaways was flooded throughout the ordeal), and Lynch (who dashed up and down the stairs -- twice) came to the rescue and helped save the city—as well as some of its prime real estate, including Carnegie Hall.

The men understood the risks as they raced to the scene, climbed 53 flights of stairs and braved life-threatening gales as storm winds tore through the open construction site.

They estimated there was a very real chance the 26,000-pound boom, thrown over the back of its mast and dangling by frayed cables, would plummet—directly onto a gas main below, with unthinkable consequences.

Michael Alacha thought he was prepared for Superstorm Sandy. Days before the storm, the assistant commissioner for the Department of Buildings made sure the agency issued wind advisories, even going so far as to require crane users to inspect their machines to ensure they were shut down properly for high winds.

Still, on October 29 as Sandy blew in, the unthinkable happened. Winds near 100 mph buffeted a 1,000-ft-tall skyscraper under construction on Manhattan's West 57th Street, flipping over the jib of a tower crane like a wet noodle. Twenty six thousand pounds of limp steel, wire rope and other debris dangled precariously over midtown Manhattan.

Stationed at his office's emergency response center, Michael Alacha witnessed the event on television and raced to the scene. "My concern was the crane's connection to the building, specifically the top tie," Alacha recalls. "If that was compromised, with the storm still halfway through, the entire mast may have collapsed."

Alacha met with Tim Lynch, a city forensic engineer, and a safety expert with Lend Lease, the building's construction manager. The three men took an elevator to the 20th floor of One57. From there, they made a long climb to the top of the building—up to the 75th floor—to inspect the crane.

The noise and pressure from the wind was overwhelming. "I felt something fly by my eyes," Alacha recalls. "Seconds later, I realized they were my glasses."

In a few days, the crane was secure and nearby buildings re-opened. His quick thinking made a difference. The damaged rig is due to be replaced in March.

"I think Mike Alacha handled the situation very well," says Tim Lynch. "He kept a very calm head."