Crane Accidents

Victim in Bellevue Crane Collapse is Microsoft Attorney

11/17/06

Seattle, Washington

Tower Crane Kills 1 in Apartment CrashSearchers spent the day sorting through the rubble caused by a giant construction crane that collapsed onto an apartment house in downtown Bellevue Thursday, leaving one person dead.

The victim was identified today as Matt Ammon, 31, a Microsoft employee for five months. The King County Medical Examiner’s Office said Ammon died of rib and pelvis injuries and other fractures.

Ammon lived in a fourth-floor apartment in the 248-unit Pinnacle BellCentre.

Firefighters armed with chain saws and buzz saws spent the day untangling the mess made when the crane toppled about 7:45 p.m.

A smaller crane was brought in to remove debris and stabilize the crane that toppled.

The horizontal boom section that fell across that apartment complex, was removed today, but it is expected to take several days to remove the tower section of the crane itself.

This morning dozens of bystanders stood at Northeast Fourth Street and 108th Avenue Northeast to see the damage and take pictures this morning. Many are office workers and construction workers from nearby projects.

Tom Landowski, 36, lives in the apartment complex where the Ammon died. He was in Building B. The victim was in Building A.

He said he and his wife were watching a movie last night when the crane fell.

“It was a little short earthquake,” he said.

The 210-foot-tall crane that toppled fell across 108th Avenue Northeast, a major downtown north-south thoroughfare. The street wasn’t expected to be opened until Saturday.

At least three downtown buildings had severe structural damage: the Plaza 305 office building, the Civica Office Commons and the Pinnacle BellCentre, a mixture of stores on the ground level and luxury apartments above.

Also damaged was an adjacent restaurant, the Melting Pot.

Dozens of residents, diners and others were evacuated

The crane operator, who was not identified, was trapped in the control cab of the yellow crane nearly 30 feet off the ground. Firefighters used a ladder to reach him, and he walked from the scene, according to fire officials. Bellevue Fire Department spokesman Lt. Bruce Kroon said the operator “rode the crane down” nearly 200 feet.

The operator suffered minor injuries and was taken to nearby Overlake Hospital for evaluation.

Fire officials said they were “red tagging” the buildings, meaning they were not safe to be occupied.

John Ecker, compliance manager for Labor and Industries, said it could take up to six months to determine the cause of the collapse, with the process including interviewing the crane operator, contractors and company officials.

Ecker said it was his understanding the crane had been in place about two months.

The crane was located at the site of Tower 333, a 20-story office building under construction at the corner of Northeast Fourth Street and 108th Avenue Northeast. The crane was anchored in a pit about five stories deep.

The crane was a tower-style construction crane, assembled in pieces on the site. Its tower supports a long cross-arm, or boom, that swung around the site, delivering materials. It is controlled by an operator in a cab above the ground, at the intersection of the tower and boom.

Setting up the crane would have involved a structural or civil engineer who would design and approve the installation, Ecker said

. After that, he said, the crane operator is responsible for daily site inspections, checking such items as the condition of mounting bolts and other operating features. Bellevue Fire Chief Mario Trevino said the crane operator reported he was securing the crane for the night when he “heard a noise” and the crane toppled. Trevino said the accident is being blamed on “a catastrophic failure” of the crane.

“We’re told he’s [the crane operator] going to be OK,” said Bellevue police Officer Greg Grannis.

Cresta Holdeman was waiting on guests in a private dining room at the Seastar Restaurant and Raw Bar on the first floor of the Civica Office Commons.

“It sounded like thunder, two waves, back to back,” Holdeman said.

Her co-worker Vic Nebre said it “wiped out some balconies and crashed into the restaurant. It happened right in the middle of our dinner rush.”

About 300 diners and 35 employees were evacuated.

Ryan Peach, 28, a trained emergency medical technician, was working a second job as a waiter at the Melting Pot when the crane came down. He said he helped the first police officers on the scene search the apartments on the fourth floor.

Peach described a scene of terrific destruction. The ceilings had come down, along with wires and pipes, and there was nearly a foot of water on the ground from a broken water main. In one apartment, the crane had sliced through the walls and was lying across a couch.

“We were screaming in there,” trying to locate survivors, Peach said. “We couldn’t go in. It was just too dangerous.”

The most seriously damaged building was Plaza 305, next to the Tower 333 construction site.

The building was so badly damaged that Bellevue firefighters requested help from area urban search-and-rescue teams, including rescue dogs, which specialize in locating injured people in urban disasters and are trained in sifting through concrete rubble.

The Plaza 305 building houses several tech companies, including Intelligent Results, a software company that occupies the entire top floor.

“We were just sitting there about three hours ago,” said Tony Corneto, a software engineer. He said he and his fellow workers had watched the crane for months, often commenting on how it seemed to sway in the wind.

“Every day, we would talk about, ‘Hey, look at what they’re doing,’ ” he said. “If this had happened during the day, at least 20 people would have been killed.”

The Tower 333 building is being constructed on the site on which the late developer Eugene Horbach planned to build the Bellevue Technology Tower. Horbach’s plans ended when he lost the property in foreclosure 18 months before his 2004 death.

The Seattle office of Hines, an international real-estate firm, and Washington Capital Management announced plans for Tower 333 in March. The firm said the new tower would rise 20 stories and comprise approximately 400,000 square feet.

On Aug. 17, 1994, two construction workers were killed when the crane lifting them for emergency repairs in the Kingdome rammed into the ceiling, dropping a bucket containing the two men. William Louth, of Portland, and Jorge Turincio, of San Diego, plunged 250 feet to their deaths.

Louth’s family sued the crane operator, Ness Cranes, and Pacific Components, the general contractor, for damages in U.S. District Court. Both firms reached a settlement in out-of-court mediation.

Turincio’s family also sued the two contractors. It wasn’t immediately known whether the suit was settled.

Tower cranes like the one that toppled in Bellevue are familiar sights in downtown Bellevue and Seattle, where numerous high-rise buildings are under construction. Andrew Morrow, regional sales rep for Salem, Ore.-based Morrow Equipment, the nation’s biggest dealer in tower cranes, and other crane operators predicted Seattle-area skylines would include more than 60 cranes this year, close to triple the normal number.

Use of a large tower crane can cost $90,000 a month, including rent and operators. The cranes are trucked in pieces. A 285-foot Liebherr 540 was brought to the 25-story Sheraton Seattle expansion in a convoy of 13 tractor-trailers late last year and set up in a weekend.

Photograph Comment: The giant construction cranetoppled and smashed into an apartment building, where one man died, and two other buildings. One witness said it “sounded like two waves of thunder.”

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com

Peyton Whitely: 206-464-2259 or pwhitely@seattletimes.com

Category: Accident Report, In Memory of

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