A construction crane collapsed today in a residential Manhattan neighbourhood, smashing into a 23-story apartment building as it fell to the ground, killing two construction workers and seriously injuring one.
It was the second deadly crane accident in 2 1/2 months in New York, which is undergoing a building boom. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the latest collapse was “unacceptable” and the city would investigate.
“What has happened is unacceptable and intolerable. Having said that, we do not know at the moment what happened or why,” said Mr Bloomberg at a news conference, 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.
All three of the victims were construction workers and one of the dead men had been in the cab of the crane, Mr Bloomberg said at a news conference. In addition, one pedestrian was treated for minor injuries.
The mayor said seven buildings have been evacuated as a precaution following the collapse on the city’s Upper East Side neighbourhood.
“The sound was like a thunder clap. Then, an earthquake,” said Peter Barba, who lives on the seventh floor of the damaged building across the street from where workers were erecting a luxury apartment tower.
One body was initially brought out of the rubble at East 91st Street and First Avenue, placed on a trolley and covered in a white sheet. A construction worker knelt over the stretcher, gently stroking the sheet.
At first, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said two injured workers were in serious condition at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Centre. One was being treated for a chest wound, the other for cardiac arrest, he said.
Construction foreman Scott Bair identified one of the injured as Simeon Alexis, and said he was taken to the hospital with his “chest slashed open”.
The medical examiner’s spokeswoman, Ellen Borakove, later said the other injured man, 27-year-old Ramadan Kurtas, had died. The other man killed was the crane’s operator, 30-year-old Donald Leo.
Mr Bloomberg said the top part of the crane snapped off and fell against the building. 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.
Chaos enveloped the largely residential neighbourhood of town houses and apartment high-rises as dozens of emergency vehicles raced to the scene during the morning rush hour.
The neighbourhood, not far from the mayor’s official residence, Gracie Mansion, has undergone a construction boom in recent years, with high-rises swiftly replacing older, low-rise brownstones.
Cranes at the site had generated several complaints in the neighbourhood, including reports that safety barriers were breached and heavy loads passed over the heads of pedestrians, according to city building department records. Inspectors found most of the concerns were unwarranted.
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.