Saturday, February 13, 2016

Electrician Catches Deadly Crane Collapse on Cell Phone

A 565-foot crawler crane being used to install generators and air-conditioning units atop 60 Hudson Street collapsed in Lower Manhattan Friday morning, killing at least one person and injuring several others. 

The crew operating the crawler took note of the wind gusts accompanying the falling snow and decided they needed to lower the crane to a secure level.

At around 8 a.m., they began to bring down its boom, which stretched 565 feet toward the sky.

But instead of a steady, controlled descent, the crane began to topple over suddenly before plunging into a free fall and crashing onto Worth Street in TriBeCa.

Two electricians who were working down the block from the deadly caught the incident on cell phone video.

Glenn Zito and Chris Andropolis were on the 46th floor of 56 Leonard Street when they were warned of strong winds and told to move to lower floors. Then, as they were headed down, they stopped after noticing a crane that was swaying.

"We noticed that they decided to start lowering it down across the street," Zito said. "We decided to start videoing it, and as we were videoing it, it actually lost momentum as it was coming down. It gained speed, and then it flipped over."

"It was shocking," Zito said. "I mean, we didn't expect it to happen, but we were videoing it just in case."

A man walking on the street was killed by the falling crane, and the surrounding blocks were littered with debris and stricken by panic as people who had been headed to work fled from what some thought was a bomb exploding.

“It shook the building,” said one witness, who heard an enormous crash from his office on Worth Street and then saw the crane on the street. “You could feel the vibration.”

Three other people were injured. Two of them were hospitalized with serious injuries from debris tossed off by the collapse, which left tangled wreckage stretched over roughly two full blocks.

More than 140 firefighters converged on the scene, along with scores of police officers and utility workers dispatched to handle gas leaks and other damage caused by the impact.

For all the commotion that shook the neighborhood, not far from City Hall and the state and federal courthouses, Mayor Bill de Blasio said it was remarkable that the human toll was not worse.

“You can see how powerful the damage was,” Mr. de Blasio said at a news conference near the scene, “but you can also see, again, that it was something of a miracle that there wasn’t more impact.”

“Thank God,” he added, “we didn’t have more injuries and we didn’t lose more people.”

The authorities identified the man killed on Friday as David Wichs, 38, who lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Mr. Wichs was born in Prague and immigrated to the United States as a teenager, and later received a mathematics degree from Harvard University.

A 45-year-old woman injured her leg and had a cut on her head, and a 73-year-old man sustained a head wound, officials said. Both were in stable condition at Manhattan hospitals. A third person had minor injuries.

The crane, known as a crawler, was being used to install generators and air-conditioning units atop 60 Hudson Street, the former Western Union building, and had been inspected by the Buildings Department on Thursday to approve an extension to its present length, officials said.

With the capacity to carry as much as 330 tons, the crane was “very, very large,” said Rick Chandler, the buildings commissioner. Mr. de Blasio said it was rated to withstand wind gusts of up to 25 miles per hour, but as the wind neared 20 M.P.H. on Friday, the crew decided to secure it.

The crane was being operated by Galasso Trucking and Rigging, in Maspeth, Queens.

As a precaution, officials ordered that 376 other crawler cranes currently operating in the city, as well as 43 of the larger tower cranes, be secured, the mayor said.

The damage from the fall caused leaks in a water main and in multiple gas lines, though officials said those leaks had not reached dangerous levels. Nonetheless, gas service in the immediate area was shut off. Many streets were also closed, and subways lines skipped nearby stops. Officials said the disruptions were expected to continue at least through the weekend.

The Police Department and the Buildings Department have opened investigations into the collapse.

The episode comes amid a construction surge in New York that has made the long booms of cranes ubiquitous fixtures across the skyline.

There has also been a spike in construction fatalities in the city over the past two years. An investigation found that the rise in deaths as well as injuries had far exceeded the rate of new construction over the same period, that supervision at building sites was often lacking, and that basic safety steps were not being taken to prevent workers from falling.

With construction accidents a growing cause for concern in recent years, the city has responded by hiring more building inspectors. The mayor said crane safety had improved significantly since 2008, when several people were killed in crane accidents on Manhattan’s East Side.

“I want people to hear me loud and clear: We’ve had some construction site incidents that are very troubling,” Mr. de Blasio said. “We have more and more inspectors who are going to get on top of that. We’re going to be very tough on those companies.”

“This is a totally different matter,” he added. “This was a company that was putting their crane into the secure position as we would have wanted them to.”

In 2012, one person was killed and four others were hurt when a 170-foot crane collapsed at a construction site for the extension of the No. 7 train. Last year, a crane dropped an air-conditioning unit 28 stories to the street in Midtown Manhattan. Seven people suffered minor injuries in that episode.

Roughly 300 large cranes are in operation in the city at any given time, said city comptroller, Scott Stringer.

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