Safety summit follows NYC crane collapse

<div class="meta image-caption"><div class="origin-logo origin-image none"><span>none</span></div><span class="caption-text">A construction crane collapsed on New York&#39;s Upper East Side early Friday morning.</span></div>
May 31, 2008 2:16:11 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.

Investigators have not determined what caused the collapse, which stoked fears about the potential hazards of the city's building boom. The crane collapsed 2½ months after another one toppled into a town house in midtown Manhattan and killed seven people.

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.

The giant crane collapsed Friday while helping to build a 32-story condominium, killing two construction workers and injuring a third.

Crews worked through the night, and the sound of sawing rumbled Saturday through the closed-off blocks around the site. Three emergency cranes lifted debris and took apart pieces of the shattered 200-foot crane, which broke apart and plummeted to the ground, pulverizing a penthouse and shearing balconies off an apartment building across East 91st Street from the building under construction. A mammoth flatbed truck was loaded with a large piece of the fallen rig.

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."

Passers-by lined police barricades on First Avenue to observe and snap photos of the wrecked crane. Among the onlookers were 4-year-old Spencer Kufeld and his mother, Beth.

Asked what he was looking at, Spencer replied, "A problem."

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.

The crane toppled after depositing a load on top of the new structure and turning to pick up more materials from the street, construction worker Scott Bair said Friday. LiMandri said investigators would focus on a weld that failed on the 24-year-old Kodiak crane, a model he said was out of production.

Buildings Department officials had looked at the crane three times this month, most recently on Thursday. Agency records show officials halted work after the crane failed "load tests" on April 22 and 23, but the rig passed another test the next day. No violations had been issued.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has called the accident "unacceptable and intolerable" but said the city appeared to have followed regulations.

The project's general contractor, Leon D. DeMatteis Construction Corp., said subcontractor Sorbara Construction was in charge of operating the crane. A woman who answered the telephone at Sorbara Friday said no one was available to comment; the telephone system's general mailbox did not accept a message Saturday.

The collapse extended a spike in deadly construction accidents around the city, including the March 15 crane collapse in midtown. More than two dozen construction workers have been killed in the past year.

Friday's accident killed the crane operator, Donald Leo, 30, and another worker, Ramadan Kurtaj, a 27-year-old immigrant from Kosovo who reportedly had fought in the civil war there and came to New York two years ago. He earned a living laying down water and sewer lines, sending his savings home to his parents.

A third construction worker, Simeon Alexis, 32, was seriously injured; Bair said his chest was "slashed open" and later stitched at a Manhattan hospital. No update on his condition was immediately available Saturday. One pedestrian was treated for minor injuries.

Leo had planned to get married in three weeks and honeymoon in Greece. His fiancee, Janine Belcastro, said her "heart is broken."