- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 31, 2008

— NEW YORK (AP) - A construction crane snapped and smashed into an apartment building with a thunderous roar yesterday, killing two workers in the city’s second such accident in 2 1/2 months and renewed fears about the safety of hundreds of cranes towering over the New York skyline.

The collapse happened despite stepped-up inspections and a shake-up in the city Buildings Department after the earlier accident, which killed seven people in March.

City officials could not immediately say how the 200-foot crane fell apart on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, where contractors were building a 32-story luxury condo complex.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg called the accident “unacceptable and intolerable” but added: “Having said that, we do not know at the moment what happened or why.”

With the city going through a supercharged building boom and an estimated 250 cranes in operation as of mid-March, New York has seen a series of deadly construction accidents. Nine people have died in crane accidents so far this year. None died in crane accidents last year; two were killed in 2006.

“Construction of buildings is out of control in this city,” City Councilman Tony Avella said. “How many people have to die before the mayor decides enough is enough?”

City Councilwoman Jessica Lappin, who represented the neighborhood affected by the March collapse, said: “People shouldn’t live in fear walking near a construction site - and certainly shouldn’t feel fear sitting in their living rooms.”

Building Department records said officials halted work at the Upper East Side site after the crane failed a “load test” on April 22. However, the crane passed a second test the next day, and no violation was issued.

Department records also indicate several neighborhood complaints about cranes at the site in recent weeks. At least two callers had expressed concerns about parts of the crane extending past safety barriers. One complained that workers were hoisting heavy metal and concrete over the heads of pedestrians.

Inspectors found most of the concerns were unwarranted, and Building Department officials said the crane was inspected frequently.

The crane toppled just after 8 a.m., destroying a penthouse apartment across the street and knocking off balconies on the apartment building as it plunged more than 20 stories into a heap of twisted steel. The city said in a statement that the cab where the operator sits had separated from the crane’s tower.

“The sound was like a thunderclap. Then, an earthquake,” said Peter Barba, who lives on the seventh floor.

Killed were the crane operator, Donald Leo, 30, and another worker, 27-year-old Ramadan Kurtaj. A third construction worker was seriously injured, and one pedestrian was treated for minor injuries.

Construction foreman Scott Bair said one of the workers on his 40-man crew was taken to the hospital with his “chest slashed open.” His eyes filled with tears, Mr. Bair said his own life was saved because he left to get an egg sandwich for breakfast 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. When he returned to the site, “Everyone was shook up and crying. These are some hardened men, but they were crying.”

Crane operators generally need to handle their loads very carefully to keep the top-heavy machines from becoming unbalanced, said Dan Mooney, a longtime New York crane operator who went to the scene after hearing about the accident.

If an operator tries to lift a load that is too heavy, too fast, it could pull the rig over or cause it to sway dangerously. Stopping short while swinging a very heavy load could cause the same problem, as could having a big load suddenly drop off the end of the crane.

“Any instability in the load could be a problem,” Mr. Mooney said.

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