Crane collapses in Manhattan, killing one and injuring three

A 565-foot crane collapsed around 8:30 a.m. Friday morning in lower Manhattan, killing one man and injuring three. The person killed was sitting in a parked car and has been identified as David Wichs, 38, a Manhattan resident. The three others were pedestrians who were hit by falling debris. Two received serious but not life-threating injuries.

The crane first struck nearby buildings before smashing into parked cars and creating debris that littered two city streets.

The incident took place when workers were attempting to lower the crawler crane, as it was swaying in high winds, into a secure position. However, according to construction workers who were watching from a nearby building, as the crane workers tried to lower it, the crane unexpectedly gained speed until it flipped over.

Cranes are supposed to be secured when winds reach 25 miles per hour. New York City was under a winter weather advisory yesterday morning, with sustained winds of 16 to 18 mph and gusts at higher speeds. Because of the weather forecast, work on the building had stopped Thursday night so that the crane could be lowered on Friday morning. The procedure, however, took place in the midst of the predicted gusting winds of 20 mph, which undoubtedly caused the crane to tip over.

When the crane crashed, residents and workers in the neighborhood said it felt like an earthquake, and one told the press that she had been avoiding the street because the crane was unstable.

Immediately after the accident, more than 30 fire trucks and more than 100 firefighters and other emergency workers arrived on the scene. Many streets have been closed and multiple gas leaks were found and turned off. A leaking water main was shut down. The nearby New York Law School evacuated its campus and canceled classes until Monday.

Immediately after the accident, the city ordered the 376 crawler and 53 tower cranes in operation to be immediately secured. Had there been normal weekday car and pedestrian traffic in the area, the crash could have easily created a much greater catastrophe.

The crane was being used to replace generators and air conditioning equipment in the building on 60 Hudson Street since January 30 in the area known as Tribeca. The equipment is called a crawler crane because it consists of an upper carriage, or boom, and an undercarriage, or crawler, that can be moved. Building inspectors had been at the site just the day before granting approval for the crane operator to add an extension to the upper boom, bringing it to 565 feet.

City officials said there have been no complaints or violations at the site. Greg Galasso of the Galasso trucking company, responsible for operating the machine, declined to comment. The crane’s owner, Bay Crane, also declined comment. Bay Crane has been involved in a number of accidents in the city. Last year, an air conditioning unit being lifted by a crane to the top of a midtown Manhattan building fell 28 stories, landing on the street.

In March 2008, in the deadliest of the most recent accidents, six workers employed by Joy contractors, Inc. fell to their deaths in New York City. A seventh was injured but managed to survive.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio observed that there have been no crane collapses since the 2008 tragedy. This obscures the reality that construction deaths have grown over the last period as the city experiences a construction boom driven by skyrocketing real estate prices. Tribeca, the lower Manhattan neighborhood where yesterday’s disaster occurred, is one of the city’s most expensive neighborhoods.

The city’s Department of Buildings has recorded about 1,800 injuries and more than 60 deaths on worksites since 2008. Crain’s Business noted in an article on New York City construction deaths last year that “a review of city records shows that construction sites are less safe today than they were seven years ago, when the pace of building was on par with the current booming market.” Nearly 80 percent of the construction workers killed have been employed at nonunion sites that hire poorly paid immigrant workers.