TriBeCa crane collapse investigation focuses on weather, height, operating company

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Jim Hoffer investigates.

The investigation into the deadly crane collapse in TriBeCa Friday morning is focusing on the wind and the height of the crane, as well as the company operating the vehicle.

Overnight, the crane's boom was extended more than 500 feet. But as winds picked up, workers rushed in to lower it. During that process, the boom got caught by the winds, which blew the entire structure over.

Veteran crane accident investigator Tom Barth says operator error may have played a role in addition to the weather.

"Wet snow could stick to the boom," he said. "That puts weight on the boom, but that wind, it's a long boom that puts a lot of weight on the crane. It can tip them over, has done so in the past."

Six months ago in Saudi Arabia, a similar type crawler crane collapsed in strong winds, killing 100 people in Mecca. Video of the accident is almost identical to video of this collapse.

And back in 2012, the winds of Superstorm Sandy caused a tower crane to collapse on 57th Street.

The last-minute attempt to lower the massive boom failed, raising questions about why it was left overnight extended to its maximum height of more than 500 feet.

"It was being moved to a secured position because, by the manufacturer's instructions, as winds topped 20 miles per hour," Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

It all happened above city streets with a winter storm forecast well in advance.

"Five-hundred-sixty-five feet of boom up there?" Barth said. "Yes, someone should have been checking the weather."

Just 24 hours before the storm, the focus wasn't on securing the crane, but on making it longer. The crane was last inspected Thursday morning.

"Yesterday's inspection was on the ground, as they were putting an extension on the boom," Department of Buildings Commissioner Rick Chandler said. "And it was successful."

The crane is owned by Bay Crane, of Long Island City, Queens, which has a fairly good safety record. Last year, however, a Bay Crane was involved in an accident on Madison Avenue in which cables broke while lifting a massive air conditioning unit. Ten people were injured.

Additionally, in 2010, a Bay Crane had a mechanical problem that caused it to crash against a building in Lower Manhattan. Fortunately, there were no injuries in that case.

In this accident, the Bay Crane was being leased and operated by Galasso Trucking and Rigging, of Maspeth. It left almost 500 feet of destruction stretching over nearly two city blocks.

"The boom length for this unit was 565 feet," Chandler said. "That is a very large crane, and it was approved and submitted by an engineer."

One person was killed and three others injured when the crane came down just before 8:30 a.m. at Worth and Church streets, clipping at least one building and landing on a row of parked cars.

"It has a capacity of 330 tons, a very, very large crane," Chandler said. "Perfectly fine the terms of the way it was engineered, but obviously requires an investigation as to why this happened."

New York City is in the midst of huge building boom, with more cranes operating in Manhattan alone than any city in the nation. This accident raises the question once again as to whether the city has enough inspectors to keep an eye on all these cranes.

More than 300 are operating every day city-wide, but as of last year, the city buildings department had about 32 inspectors on the books.
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