crane collapse new york
AP/Wide World
The latest New York City crane accident has left two dead.

To the dismay of New Yorkers already wary after a spectacular accident in March, the turntable, cab and boom of another tower crane at another highrise apartment building collapsed in a busy Manhattan residential neighborhood, raining steel down on a building near the jobsite and killing two workers.

Although the immediate cause of the accident was unclear, investigators will be focusing on a weld connecting the crane turntable to its base, city officials say. The crane, an old Kodiak model, may have been repaired recently, industry sources have told reporters. Operator error also is possible. City inspectors twice stopped work before the crane had begun lifting in late April, once because the crane operator lowered the boom incorrectly and damaged the limit switch, city officials say. The switch was fixed and work went ahead.

The accident has already thrown into question safety measures enacted in New York City after March's tower crane disaster, which killed seven people. An inspector had been present at the site the day before the latest accident. It continues a poor year for crane safety across the U.S., with recent fatal accidents in Florida and Missouri, and may provide momentum for new federal and local safety measures. Building trades union presidents will meet next week to talk about needed safety improvements, says Mark H. Ayers, president of the AFL-CIO's Building & Construction Trades Dept.

Unlike the March accident, this one left the crane mast still fastened to the building frame. Crews were at work on floors 10, 11 and 12.

“What has happened was unacceptable and intolerable,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg during a press conference at the scene. “We do not at the moment know exactly what happened or why. It would appear the constructor and the building department followed regulations. Whether those are appropriate or not we will have to see.”

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    The collapse occurred around 8 a.m. during construction of the Azure, a 241,000-sq-ft, 32-story condominium tower at East 91st Street and First Avenue. A middle school will be located in the base of the apartment building.

    City officials identified the two workers killed as Donald Leo, 30, believed to be the crane’s operator and a member of operating engineers Local 14. He was found in the crane’s cab. The other worker who died is Ramadan Kurtaj, 27, whose trade is unknown. The exact number injured isn’t clear.

    According to an industry source, the crane involved was an older Kodiak model, one of only a few still used in New York City construction. The model had been popular because of its fast line speed.

    Sue Pearsall for ENR
    Acting Buildings Commissioner LiMandri answers reporters questions.

    Robert LiMandri, acting commissioner of the New York City Department of Buildings, said at the press conference that the crane’s turntable fell into the street, and the mast was affected. Pieces from the crane hit an apartment building across from the jobsite on East 91st.

    At the press conference, LiMandri identified the crane owner as New York Crane & Equipment Corp. Another firm, Sorbara Construction, based in Lynbrook, N.Y., was operating the crane as a subcontractor performing the concrete work on the apartment building. Neither company could be reached for comment. Nor could officials of Leon D. DeMatteis Construction Corp., general contractor on the concrete-framed building.

    Construction crews erected he tower crane in late April and jumped it on May 22 and May 27 with city engineers onsite, LiMandri says. “The first examination of the records say this crane was inspected, installed and stepped in compliance with regulations,” Bloomberg said.

    “We do not know why the top snapped off.”

    The day prior to the collapse, a city inspector visited the site to investigate a complaint that the crane was hoisting material over the street. Neither the mayor nor building department indicated the outcome of that investigation. “We have no reason to believe that there was anything we could have done to prevent this,” Bloomberg said. “We will look at our procedures again.”

    Crane and derrick-related accidents kill between 64 and 82 construction workers each year, but recent accidents across the U.S. have prompted a review of safety measures and training. New federal crane safety rules are slowly making their way through the approval process, frustrating some who believe the new rules are taking too long.

    “As recent events painfully demonstrate, we need them now,” says Terence M. O’Sullivan, general president of the laborers’ union.

    In March, a New York City crane accident killed seven at a condominium project. The boom from that crane struck and triggered the collapse of a townhouse. As a precaution, city officials at the current accident site evacuated eight nearby buildings with approximately 160 apartments.

    Several hours after the collapse, stunned onlookers were crowded around the cordoned off scene while sections of the massive crane sprawled down Manhattan’s 91st street.

    Arthur Robenove, who lives near the site, says he was parking his car when he heard the noise. “I looked up and I just saw lots of debris falling down to the street. You could see the crane had fallen down to the ground and you could see smoke like there had been a fire.”

    Tony Vasquez, another local resident, was out walking his dog. “It sounded like a big explosion. I turned around and I saw that the crane had hit the building and had fallen into the street.”

    “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” he says.

    “It’s a tragedy.”