Crane Accidents

New York to Send Construction Crane Remains for Tests

03/17/08

New York

Original Story (3/15/2008):  Crane Topples in Manhattan, Killing at Least Four People

New York to Send Construction Crane Remains for TestsNew York City workers will dismantle the remnants of a construction crane that collapsed and killed at least five people and send them to a forensics laboratory for testing, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

The collapse on Saturday of the 200-foot crane at 303 East 51st St., between First and Second Avenues, destroyed adjacent buildings and injured two dozen people. The bodies of four construction workers were found Saturday; a fifth body was found today, according to the fire department.

Rescue workers were awaiting the removal of the remaining pieces of the crane before searching the rubble with hand tools and sounding devices for additional victims, Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said.

The city’s Department of Buildings had looked at the crane the day before the accident, Bloomberg said. The inspectors had visited because high winds were forecast and they were checking on debris. The forensics test will try to determine whether the crane experienced a mechanical failure, he said. About 250 construction cranes are in use around the city.

“We are not going to shut down all construction,” Bloomberg said.

Residents in the area were concerned that the construction site was unsafe, said U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat. Over the past 27 months, 38 complaints were answered, and 14 violations cited at the project, a planned 43- story apartment building, said Building Commissioner Patricia Lancaster. None of the violations concerned the crane.

`Breakneck Speed’

“Everyone in the neighborhood I know who lives or works there said this was an accident waiting to happen,” said Michael Lucas, who lives at 301 East 52nd Street, and has an art gallery, the Phyllis Lucas Gallery, on 52nd Street. “They were erecting that building at breakneck speed.”

Bruce Silberblatt could see the 200-foot crane towering over the construction site from the window of his apartment in the United Nations Plaza Tower at 48th Street and First Avenue. Silberblatt, 80, was president of S.S. Silberblatt Inc. a building contractor that constructed many of the city’s public housing high-rises, he said. He retired in 1980.

“When you install a tower crane like this one, you try to locate it as close as possible to the building you’re putting up,” he said in a phone interview. “But this particular crane was apart from the building. It was about 12 to 13 feet away as best as I was able to judge.”

On the afternoon of March 4, Silberblatt called the city Building Department to complain.

Codes Met

The department sent inspectors, and they found the crane to be in compliance with building codes.

“They weren’t violating the code, but they were violating the laws of nature,” he said. “I don’t make complaints idly.”

A metal collar meant to brace the crane instead fell into the ninth-floor brace, which then cascaded down to the third- floor brace, Lancaster, the city building commissioner, said at a press conference yesterday. A counterbalance caused the crane to pull away from the building, she said, sending it crashing south across 51st Street all the way to 50th street, damaging and destroying buildings as it fell.

“Construction costs go up 1 percent every month, we do have to build fast,” said Manhattan Borough President Scott Springer. “But we need safety protocols.”

Calls to Manhattan-based principal developer Kennelly Development Co. LLC, and constructionmanager Reliance Construction Group of Montreal weren’t returned. Nor was a call to New York Crane & Equipment Corp, which owned the crane.

`Procedures are Adequate’

“We think our procedures are adequate,” Bloomberg said at the news conference yesterday, held at a pizza restaurant that was temporarily closed because of its proximity to the accident.

Bloomberg is the founder and principal owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News.

Cranes dot the Manhattan skyline, where spending on construction climbed 7 percent last year to $26.2 billion, according to the New York Building Congress, a trade organization.

On the Upper West Side of Manhattan, two cranes stand above Broadway near West 118th Street, where new buildings are being added to Columbia University’s campus.

Neil Fitzgerald, 39, was running yesterday past the cranes, as he does regularly. Though the sidewalk, designated a hardhat area with signs, is blocked off, forcing pedestrians into the street, the cranes still hover over where people walk.

Yesterday’s accident “just made me think, has somebody looked into these closely,” he said. “I guess you get two thoughts with regard to this. These look very solid, but they also look very heavy. They could be dangerous.”

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