Safety summit follows crane collapse

Inspectors: Weld failure caused collapse; Two killed in deadly accident
June 1, 2008 2:49:26 PM PDT
Buildings officials gathered for an emergency safety summit Saturday after a deadly crane collapse, while lawmakers warned of dangers in New York's building boom -especially the 250 cranes still up in the sky. "I don't want to hear from more constituents that they're afraid to sit on their couches," New York City Council member Jessica Lappin told a news conference near the site of the accident on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

She joined Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who called on the city to treat rising buildings as "a public safety crisis," with the police and fire departments forming a task force with investigators and other experts to keep close watch on all construction.

"We all have a sense of urgency, because this problem is not going away," the Manhattan borough president said.

On his way into the City Hall meeting, acting Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri said he was "deeply disturbed" by the accident and was committed to implementing any reforms needed to avoid a repeat.

Forensic engineers will analyze crane parts to determine what went wrong, and the city Department of Buildings is researching the crane's history and reviewing its maintenance records, spokeswoman Kate Lindquist said.

Citywide, the Buildings Department halted the erection of new cranes, dismantling of cranes in use or extending the height of any cranes, a process known as "jumping."

Residents had been allowed to return to many of the 160 apartments in various buildings evacuated after the collapse, but those living in the damaged building waited for word on when they could go home. The building's water and gas service had been shut off.

Two people were killed in a crane collapse on Manhattan's Upper East Side Friday. The crane smashed into a 23-story apartment building before crashing more than a dozen stories onto the street below.

The collapse happened at the intersection of First Avenue and East 91st Street just after 8 a.m. The crane fell into the building 354 E. 91st on the southbound side of the street.

"The sound was like a thunder clap. Then, an earthquake," said Peter Barba, who lives across the street.

More than 100 firefighters were on the scene. Firefighters combed through the wreckage searching for survivors. One body was brought out of the rubble, placed on a gurney and covered in a white sheet. A construction worker knelt over the gurney, gently stroking the sheet.

"What has happened is unacceptable and intolerable. Having said that, we do not know at the moment what happened or why," Mayor Bloomberg said, adding that it appears the builders followed regulations.

City building department records show that inspectors stopped crane work twice last month, once because they said a crane lacked the proper permit and was being operated in an unsafe manner.

Cranes at the site had generated several complaints in the neighborhood, including reports that safety barriers were breached and heavy loads passed over the heads of pedestrians, according to city building department records.

Inspectors found that most of the concerns were unwarranted, but they did temporarily order one crane at the site to stop all work on April 23 for not having the proper permit and for operating the crane in an unsafe matter.

Building Department records also said officials halted work after a crane on the site failed a "load test" on April 22. The crane passed a second test, however, the next day, and no violation was issued.

The accident comes more than two months after another crane collapsed, killing seven people about two miles south. More than two dozen construction workers have been killed in the past year.


Eyewitness News has learned the construction worker killed in the collapse is the cab operator. He was still in the cab of the crane when it came down.

He was identified as 30-year-old Donald Leo of Staten Island.

Another construction worker on the street, outside of the cab, was taken to the hospital in very critical condition. He later died.

The medical examiner's spokeswoman, Ellen Borakove, says the victim was 27-year-old Ramadan Kurtaj.

A third person was in the building, possibly leaving at the time of the collapse. But he was not struck by the crane. He was also in critical condition.

He was being treated at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

The developer of the site, the DeMattias Organization, issued a statement following the accident:

"First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those affected by this terrible tragedy. We are currently in the process of gathering all the facts surrounding this unfortunate accident and will provide more details as they become available."


The New York City Office of Emergency Management continues to coordinate the City's response to the crane collapse at 1st Avenue and 91st Street, in Manhattan. OEM, along with the Department of Buildings (DOB), Fire Department (FDNY), Police Department (NYPD), Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), Mayor's Community Affairs Unit (CAU), Department of Design and Construction (DDC), Department of Homeless Services, Department of Transportation (DOT), Department of Small Business Services (SBS), American Red Cross in Greater New York, the Salvation Army and Con Edison are all operating on scene.

Building Assessments

The Buildings Department has completed a preliminary assessment of the construction site at 335 East 91st Street and determined the structure did not sustain damage from the crane collapse. The Buildings Department has ordered the general contractor to secure material, remove loose debris, and repair safety netting to maintain safety on the job site. While a Stop Work Order has been issued for construction operations, the general contractor is required to carry out this remedial work.

Buildings Department forensic engineers have completed a visual inspection of the building at 354 Eat 91st Street. The Buildings Department has confirmed the overall structural integrity of the building is sound, but there are damaged portions of the building's exterior that must be removed or secured. Engineers are conducting a follow-up visual inspection to identify the next steps to secure the damaged portions of the building and contractors are standing by to providing sidewalk sheds and remove any debris.

Tower Crane Assessment

Investigators now believe it was the failure of a weld at a critical joint just beneath the crane's cab that caused it to break-off and plunge more than 20 stories to the street.

They have isolated the portion of the wreckage in question, and metallurgists are examining the weld to determine precisely why it failed.

The city's acting buildings commissioner Robert Limandri is suggesting that the age of the crane may have been a factor. The model of crane, known as a Kodiak, is no longer in production but it is presently in-use at four other construction sites in New York City.

In a statement issued within the hour, Limandri said, "There are currently four Kodiak cranes in use in New York City. I am ordering immediate re-inspections of these models and a review of all of their maintenance logs in an attempt to ensure that whatever caused the collapse is isolated to this particular crane."

The department is also suspending all crane operations until Monday morning, effective immediately, citywide.

"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, June 2, 2008 to enable our cranes personnel to focus on remedial work that must take place to make the 91st Street site safe," the statement said.

Limandri is also calling an emergency meeting, convening a task force, as it were, to brainstorm additional steps to increase high-rise crane safety.

"I am calling an emergency meeting at the Buildings Department," the commissioner said, "to bring industry experts, labor, crane owners, maintenance companies and OSHA personnel together to make immediate recommendations for our ongoing efforts to make crane operations safer."

Forensic Investigation

The preliminary investigation indicates the crane cab, boom, and machine deck separated from the tower mast and collapsed onto the street after hitting the building at 354 East 91st Street. The tower crane was not being jumped, erected, or dismantled at the time of the incident. Preliminary reports indicate the tower crane was being used at the time of the incident by the crane user (concrete subcontractor), Sobara Construction Corporation. Buildings forensic engineers and inspectors are investigating the cause of the accident.

Vacated Buildings

After being previously evacated, residents may return to their homes at the following addresses:

  • 400 East 91st Street. There are 13 residential units and 1 commercial unit.
  • 1752 1st Avenue. There are 5 residential units and 1 commercial unit.
  • 1750 1st Avenue. There are 11 residential units and 1 commercial unit.
  • 404 East 91st Street. There 4 residential units.
  • 403-405 East 91st Street. There are 4 commercial units.
  • 1756 1st Avenue/401 East 91st Street. There are 12 residential units and 2 commercial units.

    354 East 91st Street remains vacated. NYPD escorts are available for residents of 354 East 91st Street who wish to retrieve personal belongings. Residents can meet escorts from NYPD Community Affairs at 91st Street and 2nd Avenue.

    Removing the Crane Debris

    The Department of Buildings is working with the Police Department to remove and secure all necessary portions of the tower crane as part of the forensic investigation into the cause of the collapse.

    Street Closures

    A number of streets in the area remain closed to accommodate rescue and recovery operations. The following streets remain closed to traffic:

  • 1st Avenue between East 86th Street and East 96th Street
  • East 91st Street between York Avenue and 2nd Avenue

    Turns are also restricted onto 1st Avenue between East 79th Street and East 86th Street. Advisories are in place on the George Washington Bridge, NY State Thruway and LaGuardia Airport. Travelers are advised to avoid the east side of Manhattan.

    Pedestrian traffic is restricted at the intersection of 91st Street and 1st Avenue and on 91st Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues. However, NYPD escorts are available for residents and business owners in the affected area.

    Reception Center for Evacuated Residents

    The City and the American Red Cross have opened a reception center for people who have been evacuated from their homes because of the collapse. The reception center is located at P.S. 198 at 1700 3rd Ave. OEM Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) members are assisting the American Red Cross at the reception center.

    The American Red Cross is also providing immediate humanitarian aid, including housing, meals and counseling for anyone affected by the crane incident. You can help them help these New Yorkers by donating now at or calling 1-877-RedCross.

    The City of New York will remain on scene until recovery operations are completed. Updates on road closures, towed vehicles and vacated residential units will continue to be made available through 311 and OEM's Web site at


    Brian Nurenberg, 37, was playing indoor tennis two blocks away when he heard the crash.

    "It was a couple of loud sort of bangs, high in the air," he said. "It sounded catastrophic, and that's from two blocks away."

    A construction worker, Simeon Alexis, was taken to a hospital with his "chest slashed open," foreman Scott Bair said.

    His eyes filled with tears, Bair said his own life was saved because he left to get an egg sandwich a block away just before the collapse.

    "I thought, I'm hungry, and I want to go get something to eat - and that saved my life," he said.

    He said he ran to the construction site, took a roll call of his 40 workers and discovered Alexis was missing.

    "Everyone was shook up and crying," he said. "These are some hardened men, but they were crying."

    Video from the scene showed the upper-floor balconies of the apartment building were severely damaged and a hole extended several stories down the side of the building.

    Barba said it appeared the entire cab came off the crane; its main arm hit the penthouse of his building, then "took out the northeast corner," he said.

    Chaos and fear gripped the largely residential neighborhood of town houses and apartment high-rises as dozens of emergency vehicles raced to the scene during the morning rush hour.

    In the March 15, accident about 2 miles to the south, contractors building a 46-story condominium near the United Nations were trying to lengthen the crane when a steel support broke, killing seven people.

    A four-story town house was demolished and several other buildings were damaged.

    A city inspector resigned after his arrest on charges of falsifying business records and offering a false instrument for filing.

    In April, the city's buildings commissioner resigned, under fire over a rising number of deadly construction accidents that have left more than 26 construction workers dead in the past year.

    Since then, the city has added extra inspections at building sites and required that its staff be on hand whenever the towering cranes were raised higher, a process known as a jump. Those procedures are still being revised.

    For more information on finding counseling from the crane tragedy, you can log on to Council Member Jessica Lappin, by Clicking Here.

    Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, who represents the Upper East Side in Congress, released the following statement:

    "I am appalled that the city's inspection procedures are so lax that we could have another massive crane collapse. Safety has to be the top priority at every construction site. People who live near construction sites shouldn't have to look at every tall crane in fear, wondering if their building is in range, and workers shouldn't have to risk their lives to do a job. I am asking the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration to come in and do a complete inspection of major construction sites in our city in light of the many recent accidents.

    "Earlier this week we learned that more than 80 percent of building plans submitted under the city's self-certification program contain violations. Self-certification has to go, and the Department of Buildings must step up its inspection of safety conditions at construction sites. I expect the Mayor and the City Council to find out what went wrong here and fix the problems before we have yet another tragedy.

    "My heart goes out to all of the victims of this accident and their families. My thoughts and prayers are with them."

    Governor Paterson was also on hand at the press conference and said his office he would be working with the mayor to investigate the cause of the accident.

    "There is no need to speculate now on how this happened. It will all be investigated but certainly these types of accidents are all too frequent," Paterson said.