Crane Accidents

Second NYC Crane Crash in Three Months Kills Two Workers

05/30/08

New York

Original Story (5/30/2008):  Crane Collapse: Discussing the Intricacies of Construction Inspection

A construction crane collapsed on New York’s Upper East Side, killing two workers and demolishing part of an apartment building in the city’s second fatal accident in three months. All crane operations were halted until June 2.

The operator of the crane was pronounced dead at the scene and another worker died later, according to the city Medical Examiner’s Office. One other worker was seriously hurt, MayorMichael Bloomberg said. Department of Buildings inspectors had shut down the crane, at 333 East 91 St. at First Avenue, for unsafe operation on April 24, with resumption of work approved only yesterday, said city Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum.

“What happened is unacceptable and intolerable,” Bloomberg said at a media briefing at the site. “We do not at the moment know exactly what happened and why.”

A March 15 crane collapse that killed seven people at 303 East 51st St., at Second Avenue, followed complaints from residents about the site and led to the resignation of New York City Buildings Commissioner Patricia Lancaster. Buildings inspectorEdward Marquette was arrested and charged with falsifying a record to show he visited the Manhattan construction site on a day when he hadn’t been there.

Operations Suspended

Today’s collapse came at 8:06 a.m. local time, the New York Fire Department said. The top portion of the crane snapped off and fell, ripping out walls and damaging about a dozen floors of the apartment building across the street at 354 East 91 St.

That building was evacuated, as were seven others as a precaution, Bloomberg said. There were no injuries in the neighboring buildings, he said.

“While we have no reason to believe the cause of today’s accident was in any way similar to the crane accident that took place on March 15, I have suspended all tower crane erection, dismantling and jumping operations in New York City until Monday,” said Robert LiMandri, the city’s acting commissioner of the Department of Buildings in a statement.

Before today, the building has had 22 complaints since construction began in July 2007, according to the statement, with six related to the tower crane, though the department hasn’t issued any violations for it.

`The Snooze Button’

Forensic experts will focus on a particular weld that failed, and are examining the crane model, called Kodiak, that is no longer produced, the statement said. Four other Kodiak cranes are being used in the city.

“We thought the March accident was a wakeup call for the Department of Buildings and that a change of leadership would bring a change in safety levels,” Gotbaum said in a statement. “Now it appears that instead of waking up, the Department of Buildings hit the snooze button.”

Donald Leo, 30, and Ramadan Kurtas, 27, were identified as the two men killed in the accident, said Ellen Borakove, a spokeswoman for the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office.

Construction worker Charles Bannerbie was on the top floor of the partly completed building, called the Azure. He was building the frame for a concrete column about 15 stories above the street when the crane began to move behind him.

“I heard a sound like iron starting to burst,” he said.

Started to Run

Bannerbie said he turned around, saw the crane start to lean, and then everybody started to run.

“If it had turned into the building, I wouldn’t be here right now,” he said.

Inspectors “check this out all the time,” Bannerbie said. “They are here every day. I can’t say they weren’t here.”

Don Miller, a spokesman for the Elmont, New York-based DeMatteis Organization, the building contractor, said it was “too soon to tell” the cause of the accident. He confirmed that the crane had been inspected yesterday.

“We don’t condone nor is it part of our business to cut corners,” Miller said in a phone interview. “We adhere to all safety standards.”

New York Crane & Equipment Co. owns the crane, according to LiMandri. A man who answered the phone in the company’s crane rental office wouldn’t comment.

In Tears

The Azure, to be 34 stories when completed, is being marketed as a cond-op, a cooperative property in which owners will hold shares in a corporation that leases their apartments to residents. Prices will range from $605,000 for studios to $4.87 million for a 2,800-square foot five-bedroom, according to the Web site.

The building is on the northwest corner of 91st Street and First Avenue. Dozens of people, some in tears, left the building across the street leading dogs and carrying bags of items they had grabbed from their apartments.

Dan Schaffer, 43, a stockbroker who lives on the 12th floor, said he was in his apartment getting his 6-year-old son, Jacob, ready for school.

“I heard a tremendous bang, really loud,” he said. “Immediately I knew it was the crane. The building was shaking. It was scary.”

Schaffer said that each day he walked by the crane, he was afraid it would fall.

“I swear I had that feeling,” he said.

Streets Closed

First Avenue between 86th and 96th streets was closed, as was 91st Street between York and Second avenues, police said.

“There’s no need to speculate now as to how this happened,” said Governor David Paterson, who joined Bloomberg at the site. “It will all be investigated, but certainly these types of accidents are all too frequent.”

The March collapse resulted in 21 claims being filed with the New York City Comptroller’sOffice, according to spokesman Jeff Simmons. The claims request more than $366 million and cite personal injury, property damage or wrongful death.

“Construction is a dangerous business and you will always have fatalities,” Bloomberg said at the site. “Sadly, two crane collapses in a short period of time makes you think there’s a pattern, but there is no reason to think that there is any connection.”

The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

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