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BREAKING: Midtown East Crane Collapses Kills 4, Injures Many, Others Missing

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Photograph from East 51st Street by gattogrosso212 at flickr

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Image from NY1

2008_03_502nd.jpgA huge crane toppled off of a high-rise building under construction around 2:15 p.m. this afternoon and crashed into another skyscraper. According to initial reports, the incident occurred near 2nd Ave. as the crane fell backward from 51st St. into another building at 305 East 50th St. in Manhattan. NY1 spoke to residents who could see the incident from their 80th floor apartment on East 48th Street; they said the crane hit at least two building.

Two people are declared dead, with another likely to die. A total of eight civilians have been reported missing in the disaster, which has reached a 4-alarm level.

According to NY1, the crane crushed a building that housed the ironically named FUBAR, which was closed at the time, but other people may have been inside residential units in the building.

One tipster who was dining across the street, left the restaurant when debris fell into the establishment's patio. He said he saw a "huge plume of dust and debris" that blocked visibility in the street.

Part of the crane is said to have leveled a building that housed the bar "Fubar" on its first floor. Luckily, the bar was closed at the time, but the other floors may be inhabited.

Reader John sent us the image at right, of East 50th Street. He said one person was inside Fubar. From the images on NY1, it looks like the building was leveled.

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Image from WABC 7

It's unclear whether the crane was in use or if it just fell.

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Photo by Robert White at WNBC.com

There are reports of gas odor and Con Ed is moving to shut utilities.

UPDATE 4:01 p.m.: We're hearing that a total of four people are dead and two more are likely to die. There are many injuries.

It appears the crane was on the north side of East 51st Street, it fell south, hitting a building on the south side of East 51st and seems to have broken, with another piece falling onto the building on the north side of East 50th.

A devastated-sounding NY1 viewer who lives in the area described the building as falling "like a house of cards."

The address of the construction site where the crane was situated has not been confirmed, but it looks like it's a planned 40+ story building at 303 East 51st Street. While there are no Department of Buildings complaints for 303 East 51st Street or 307 East 51st Street, for 305 East 51st Street, there are many complaints, including this one from January 15, 2008:
"CLR STS SITE UNSAFE CLR STS THAT CRANE SWIGING ABOUT 20 FEET AWAY FROM WINDOW CLR STS THAT CRANE CAN BEEN CLOSE SHE WOULD LIKE INSPECT TO HAVE THEM CLOSE"

Again, the address has not been confirmed - if anyone knows the address, please let us know.

Many people are remarking about how the neighborhood was filled with people celebrating St. Patrick's Day early - and this stretch of 2nd Avenue has many bars.

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Image, via Google Maps, of what Fubar and East 50th Street looked like before

UPDATE 4:37 p.m.: Reader John, who is on the scene, tells us, "Apparently they were trying up raise the crane and it fell over. Two of the dead were the operators."

Second Avenue between 49th and 57th Streets is closed. The emergency crews are searching in the rubble for victims.

2008_03_crane5.jpgUPDATE 5:01 p.m.: WCBS 2 described the incident:

The crane split into pieces as it fell. Part of it came to rest against an apartment tower, buckling its facade and smashing it upper floors. That building and others in the area were evacuated. Another piece of the crane hit other buildings on the block, ripping away walls and ceilings and crushing a small building.
The crane was at 303 East 51st Street; it completely destroyed 305 East 50st Street and partially collapsed 301 East 50st Street. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said, “This is an absolute disgrace. We need better inspection and more resources.”

Fox 5 Metro Traffic reporter Lisa Chase lives in the area and railed against the poor construction at the site. She said orange fencing on the floors wasn't put on, that work had been done Saturdays and at all hours and that the workers were "being worked to death." She added a neighbor told her he didn't even walk in front of the site because it made him nervous.

Mayor Bloomberg is on the scene and is expected to speak, as if Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.

UPDATE 5:17 p.m.: Assemblyman Jonathan Bing who represents the area told NY1 that he met with the construction site manager 8 days ago to discuss his community concerns about the building. He said that he had also spoken to the Department of Buildings about the site a few weeks ago and was still waiting from the DOB about plans. Bing says the complaint process at the DOB needs to be examined.

UPDATE 5:42 p.m.: The owner of FuBar, John PlaGreco, said he thought one of his employees was in the building at the time, "Our bar is done. The crane crashed the whole building. If I wasn't watching a Yankees game, I would've come to work early and gotten killed."

And the AP spoke to the construction management company's owner, Stephen Kaplan, who said that the crane was being extended today so workers could start on a new floor (19 of 44 stories have been completed) but some steel "fell and sheared off one of the ties holding it to the building." Kaplan said, "It was an absolute freak accident. All the piece of steel had to do was fall slightly left or right, and nothing would have happened." He also said that Reliance had subcontracted the construction to different contractors and that Reliance wasn't in charge of the crane.

The press conference from city officials has not begun yet.

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Photograph above of construction workers at 303 East 51st Street standing on a elevator and photograph below of firefighters searching on the rubble at 305 East 50th Street by Jason DeCrow/AP

UPDATE 6:02 p.m.: Mayor Bloomberg, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, Buildings Department Deputy Commissioner Bob LiMandri, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, City Council member Jessica Lappin, and NY State Deputy Secretary for Public Safety Michael Balboni (Bloomberg said he spoke to soon-to-be Governor David Paterson about the incident) are present.

Bloomberg says the crane, which was at 303 East 51st Street destroyed 3 buildings and completely destroyed a 4th building, did break in two pieces - the bottom part falling from the north side of East 51st Street to the south side of the street, hitting 300 East 51st. The top part of the crane broke off and continued to fall, onto the north side of East 50th Street, landing on top of 305 East 50th Street and also hit other buildings on East 50th. The four fatalities are believed to be construction workers. He added that 305 East 50th Street, the townhouse where Fubar was located, was another site of "carnage," but the FDNY got one person out of Fubar alive, unclear if there was a second person. Bloomberg called it "one of the worst construction accidents" in NYC history.

2008_03_crane7.jpgThe crane subcontractor did have an appropriate permit to raise the crane (it's called "jumping the crane") to another floor but strangely, the Department of Buildings actually visited the building earlier today to issue a stop work order for something unrelated - strong winds are expected for tomorrow. There were 13 violations at the site, which is considered "normal" for a building of this size.

A number of buildings have been evacuated or partially evacuated, including ones that were damaged by the crane and neighboring ones. The Red Cross has set up a shelter at the High School for Art and Design at 228 East 57th Street near 2nd Avenue. And they have a crane read y to remove the crane on top of 305 East 50th Street.

FDNY is the lead agency. Scoppetta said they are conducting a rescue operation. They will use thermal imaging cameras to look for survivors, as well as police dogs and listening devices, but it's a delicate operation because they don't want to cause further collapse. The rescue operation will continue all night for both survivors and fatalities. There are 300 firefighters from 65 units. Kelly says many streets are closed as they conduct the rescue effort.

LiMandri said the owner of the crane is New York crane; the crane was made by FavCo, an Australian company; and the crane was being operated by JCI.

Bloomberg said, "It is a sad day," with the city's hearts going out to the families of the fatalities and prayers for the injured to recover.

And NY1 reports that Lieutenant David Paterson is heading to the scene.

UPDATE 6:49 p.m.: Lieutenant Governor David Paterson said, "This tragic tragic incident occurs here in New York City. And while we never want there to be these types of tragedies in New York City, this is actually the best prepared place for it to happen. Though we lost four lives, there were herculean efforts to save three others...It's a horrible situation, very gory, there's blood in the street, but we are very very lucky to have the brave police and firefighters here, their tremendous...Our hearts go out to the families who will learn they have have lost a family member here today." Paterson said offered the resources of the state, but it seemed like the city had it under control.

He noted that the lower part of the crane is balanced on the building at the south side of East 51st Street and that it will be dangerous to remove it. Paterson also said three victims are in critical condition and searchers are looking for a woman - apparently one of the victims said she was further back into the building.

Contact the author of this article or email [email protected] with further questions, comments or tips.

Comments [rss]

  • Great loved it, will be waiting for your future posts Thank
    you for sharing

  • Very sad news

  • taxattorney25

    Thank you for the sensible critique. Me and my neighbor were just preparing to do some research about this. We got a grab a book from our local library but I think I learned more from this post. I am very glad to see such great information being shared freely out there. stainless steel sink

  • taxattorney25

    Thanks

  • nicemarmot

    Schwartzie what strikes me as impressive is that the "professional engineer, a certified master rigger, and a seasoned construction manager"s might as well be laymen judging by the job they've done. I don't have to be professionally involved to comment on an obviously unsafe worksite 2 blocks from my apartment. If that crane had fallen the other way, it could have hit my building. You don't have to be a professional to notice what's right in front of your face.

  • Schwartzie

    What's most impressive is that everyone commenting on this article and quoted in the press seems to be a member of the NY Bar, a professional engineer, a certified master rigger, and a seasoned construction manager. I'm humbled.

  • Spirit of 76

    Unions are relevant in that the function of the union is to look after the welfare and interests of its members.

    That may have been the original purpose of unions, but nowadays, the only purpose of unions is to ensure their own continued existence. If that means keeping union members safe, then that's a freebie, but otherwise, as long as other suckers keep joining, that's all that matters.

  • cucarachita

    Um... "All the piece of steel had to do was fall slightly left or right, and nothing would have happened."

    WTF? Why did this piece of steel fall, anyway? And what would it have hit if it had fallen slightly to the right? A person? Just one building?

    Obviously they were doing things wrong in the first place if stuff was falling.

    This is what you get for hiring meatheads to handle heavy machinery. And also what you get for trying to insert a 43-story building in the middle of an already populated block. It's sick.

  • Karen

    If this was an "accident," it sounds as if it was one that could have been avoided.

    I don't live in NYC, but part of the problem may be that due to budget cuts, every agency to do with workplace safety in any industry, has had a shortage of inspectors, since the Reagan years. When people complain about such sites, how long does it take an inspector to go to look into things? Does it happen before someone gets injured or killed? Before property is damaged, or a project put behind schedule due to an accident? Probably not.

    as for unions...unions have comprehensive safety programs and work closely with management on this. Its to everyone's advantage...if work stops due to injury, deaths, or near misses, work stops. Projects get behind. From a practical, monetary POV, it makes sense to have safety practices in use, from both labor and management standpoints.

    But...is it me, or the media? Are there more construction accidents, especially in NYC, the past year, or is it just the subject reporters are focusing on?

  • GCN

    What I don't understand is why this crane/building was passed by inspectors who came in as the result of nearby residents compaints and concerns.

    I agree with those above who feel that these tall buildings are completely out of whack. I spent every weekend on this very street, c;oser to First Ave. and in this tall building made no sense--even with the brick thing across the street and the building on First. The street is one of nice, small buildings. It's so sad.

  • Jen S

    Spiny, you just summed up all of my related frustrations. What's needed is a better conversation between the DOB and the neighborhoods being affected by these developments to ensure that everyone is happy and safe.

    In the Williamsburg area, I play a game and count the new condos being slapped up. The number is constantly growing, and the neighborhood looks crazy , not to mention severely unbalanced. The trend seems to be pointing the city to newer, bigger, shinier, but where is this going to lead us? I mean, I'd like to live in a nice, new condo, but no way can I afford that - not for years, at this rate. Who is living in these buildings? And where are the rest of us going to live when the old buildings are knocked down for new ones?

  • starrygordon

    Unions are relevant in that the function of the union is to look after the welfare and interests of its members. Getting killed is not in the interests of a worker, usually. Evidently the unions are not doing their job, just as the DOB is not doing its job. The only people doing their job are the developers, whose job is to be as greedy as possible and practice the old American principle of dog eat dog, and devil take the hindmost.

    I imagine some of these new buildings may be falling down before long, given the standards being adhered to in constructing them.

  • magilla gorilla

    i think what they're trying to say is that the crane was secured properly and being "jumped" properly up until this supposed freak incident where a steel beam or whatever fell. if a piece of steel fell and sheared one of the crane's support ties, that is not a freak accident. no way that steel should have fell in the first place. on some projects, safety is considered an afterthought. something that takes a backseat to progress

    it may take them a while to figure exactly what happened but there will no doubt be massive and wide ranging lawsuits involving the owner, gc/const. mgr, crane owner, crane operator, steel sub., dept. of buildings, nyc, etc. the finger pointing has already begun by this kaplan guy but just because reliance wasn't directly responsible for the crane, doesn't absolve them of responsibility.

    also, typically union workers are better trained and more skilled than non-union. i don't think that's really relevant

  • glennQNYC

    Tragic stuff.

    Whoever dropped the piece of steel that caused the chain reaction must be devistated.

    I guess this is why those crane operators make over six figures...

  • Tim N.

    I heard some developer already made an offer on the townhouse's lot.

  • David McCaffredy

    Well said, Spiny.

  • Spiny

    "It is entirely possible that this spate of construction fatalities may be the undoing of the Bloomberg Administration's positive public record. The DOB should shut down every single building site in the city at this point. There is simply no way of knowing what building sites are safe any longer."

    Agreed, tartugas.

    Real estate developers are not evil incarnate, simply as a result of being real estate developers. Nor is development necessarily a bad thing. Change and development can be bad...or good. New York City history shows that to be the case. But the heavy-handed, greedy recklessness of real estate development in this city, at present, is shameful. It's irreparably altering communities, against the wishes and the best efforts of the people who actually live and work in them. It's frequently changing the skyline for the worse, and making it harder and harder to distinguish among the characters of individual neighborhoods. It's serving only those who can afford "luxury condos." (Where are these affordable housing developments that we're always being promised?) And it's costing lives through rushed jobs, risky cost-cutting measures, and shoddy construction. NONE of it has to be this way! Development doesn't have to be this way. But people all over the city seem so willing to just accept that this is the way development is going. How many more times are we going to collectively shrug and say "oops," or "gee whiz, that tacky condo tower sucks for everyone except the people who live in it or profit from it -- too bad!" Nothing's going to change as long as the developers have City Hall in their pockets. I fear for the arts and culture, I fear for the preservation of our history, I fear for middle- and low-income New Yorkers...but most of all, I fear for our construction workers.

    I haven't walked past a construction site since I saw people injured in the Toll Brothers incident, and the rate of accidents in this city has proven that to be a good policy: don't step on anything with a ConEd logo on it, don't walk past construction sites, and you'll probably live. I love this city, but I would love it more if City Hall would address the needs of its residents in addition to the needs of its developers...one of which is the need to be able to walk down the street without fear of being crushed to death by a giant fucking crane.

  • Steven

    Blame the rushing of these buildings to be built.

    This should be a wakeup call to the city and saying no to ugly huge condo buildings!

  • tartugas

    'Union or non union?

    it seems most of these accidents happen at UNION sites."

    Excuse me? This has nothing to do with Union or Non-Union. This is all about bad management. There are companies straining human resources and logistical limits to deliver projects for less money in less time. It takes X amount of time to do any job safely. What really concerns me is the buildings that made it through construction without significant catastrophes and will be falling down in the next 10 years due to shoddy construction.

    If Union construction was actually used on this site I'd be surprised. If people hadn't been so anti-union for the past s20 - 30 years, we wouldn't be facing this sort of rush of catastrophic accidents. Let me ask you something edEX, how many cranes collapsed during the construction of the Empire State Building?

    It is entirely possible that this spate of construction fatalities may be the undoing of the Bloomberg Administration's positive public record. The DOB should shut down every single building site in the city at this point. There is simply no way of knowing what building sites are safe any longer.

    You want to know what's really scary? As this was all coming down (pun intended), I was joking with friends that if they saw a Bovis Lend/Lease sign that we had to cross the street. We were on 86th and 3rd Ave. Thank God we didn't walk south.

  • kenny000

    You don't find projects of this magnitude that are non-union, so it's difficult to compare. Non-union sites are smaller and while there are accidents and deaths, they don't get nearly the same attention.

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