Crane Accidents

SPA Crane Derails


One of the State Ports Authority’s 900-ton container cranes ran off its rails Thursday night, disrupting operations at the Wando-Welch facility, the port’s biggest and busiest terminal.

A metal pin that normally secures the giant crane to the wharf apparently dropped into a hole while the crane was slowly moving along the rail, said Byron Miller, SPA spokesman.

The pin made one side of the crane stop while the other side kept going. This caused the entire crane to twist and go off the rail, he said.

Bill Wertz was running the crane, sitting in a cabin 100 feet above the terminal, when the pin dropped.

“It was a real solid jolt,” said Wertz, who has been with the authority for five years. “It felt like riding in a car with no tires, just rims. Everything happened at once. The end of the boom was swinging violently. The stevedores were on the radio saying things were flying off the back of the crane.”

The rails run parallel to the docks, and the pin dropped into a hole near the rail closest to the water.

“That caused that side to come to a dead stop, but the other side kept moving, so the whole crane twisted counterclockwise,” Wertz said, adding that had it twisted too much the crane could have collapsed.

“I was wondering if this was going to be my last trip.”

The incident happened at about 9 p.m. while the crane was hoisting boxes to and from the Sealand Atlantic. No one was injured, but the crane’s footings were seriously damaged. Port officials said it could cost $250,000 and take two to three weeks to fix the $5.4 million machine.

Built by Morris Mechanical Handling, a British manufacturer, the crane was commissioned in 1995 and was stationed at the northern end of the terminal between several other cranes. It is one of eight at the facility.

Port employees worked through the night to jack up the crane and stabilize it, but the derailment meant ship movements and route work around the area had to be rearranged. Six vessels were scheduled to use the terminal today. “It’s certainly causing some operational constraints,” Miller said.

Ports authority officials were still investigating what caused the pin to drop. Cranes normally have sensors that fire when the pin falls. This prevents the crane from moving. Investigators were studying whether a sensor malfunctioned or if there were other mechanical problems, Miller said.

Wertz, who went back to work soon after the incident, said port officials are examining the port’s other cranes.

“We’ve got maintenance men out there working 24 hours a day trying to make sure this doesn’t happen,” he said. “The odds of something like this happening are so slim. It was just a freak accident.”

The authority has 19 container cranes, which are used to hoist 20- and 40-foot metal boxes from container ships. The one that derailed was one of the authority’s largest. When its boom is raised, it’s more than 300 feet tall.

“The whole thing was a reality check; it makes you realize that your ticket can get punched anytime,” Wertz said, adding that he has received numerous phone calls from colleagues. “They’ve all been supportive because they know it could have been much worse.”

Category: Accident Report

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