- The Washington Times - Friday, August 19, 2005

A 160-ton crane hovering over the Shoppes in Bethesda came crashing down yesterday on the plaza and an adjacent office building.

Both buildings were evacuated but no one was hurt.

The crane fell about 11 a.m. onto the roof of the Arlington & Elm Center, a two-story building at 4940 Hampden Lane, Montgomery County fire department spokesman Pete Piringer said.

The crane’s rig was in the plaza’s parking lot, with the arm stretched over the plaza and onto the roof of the office building, when it faltered under its weight, Mr. Piringer said.

“The crane was working on an air-conditioner unit on the roof of the [office building],” Mr. Piringer said. “It looks like the crane overextended its boom, which caused it to fall.”

The boom of the crane — owned by Clarksburg-based Digging and Rigging Inc. — dropped onto the roof of the office building and Framer McGee’s art gallery, which took the brunt of the hit at the plaza.

The rig, which authorities said weighs several tons, tipped over, supported only by legs hinging from the vehicle’s rear. The front was suspended nearly 30 feet off the ground.

The crane finally was lowered back to the ground in the late afternoon, authorities said.

The driver managed to climb out of the crane’s cab and onto the roof of the plaza with his co-workers’ assistance, witnesses said.

About 50 people were evacuated safely from the plaza and office building. The two buildings will remain closed while officials check for structural damage.

About 75 personnel, including the department’s collapse rescue team, responded to the scene, Mr. Piringer said.

Officials brought in four other cranes to help the company safely lift the rig. Calls to Digging and Rigging yesterday were not returned.

Traffic was detoured at Hampden Lane, causing slight delays near Arlington Road as motorists slowed to watch.

Curious residents and passers-by lined streets and rooftops to get a glimpse of the massive crane, which jutted into the skyline most of the afternoon.

Richard Taliaferro, the manager of the UPS Store next to the art gallery, patiently watched the goings on from across the street yesterday afternoon. He was cleared out of the plaza before he could secure the store, which left him waiting for the OK to re-enter the premises before he could head home.

Mr. Taliaferro, 51, of Gaithersburg, said he was assisting a customer when the crane fell.

“I heard this loud crashing sound. The customer looked and said, ‘Hey, the crane’s lifted off the ground.’ I looked and, sure enough, you could see the wheels in the air.”

Mr. Taliaferro said he gave his shaken 19-year-old co-worker the rest of the day off.

“It’s pretty amazing,” said Larissa Lefebure, 24, as she took a picture with her camera phone and sent it by e-mail to her co-workers. “It’s not every day you see something like this. You need to take advantage.”

Others were thinking less of the visual drama and more about possible problems ahead for workers on the project.

“Somebody’s gonna have some explaining to do for this,” said Robby Abbott, who works at the Bethesda Cares help agency across the street, “and I’m glad I’m not the one.”

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