Crane in NYC accident was due for inspection

April 4, 2012 - 8:08 PM
APTOPIX Crane Accident

Fireman remove an injured man from the site of a crane collapse where construction is going on for the 7 line subway extension Tuesday, April 3, 2012, in New York. Fire officials say a crane collapse at a Manhattan construction site has injured two people. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

NEW YORK (AP) — The long boom of a construction crane that crashed down at a Manhattan worksite, killing a worker, was due to be checked out this week by city buildings authorities after its most recent inspection could not be completed because the rig was in operation at the time, officials said Wednesday.

The rig, which failed Tuesday night, had been inspected most recently by the Buildings Department on Jan. 10, officials said.

That report concluded: "Crane cannot be laid down to inspect boom section, safetys only checked." The crane operator's cab and station were found to be in satisfactory condition. A follow-up inspection had been scheduled for Thursday.

A July 14, 2011, inspection found no deficiencies of the crane at the time.

A 30-year-old laborer from New Jersey died when the crane's boom fell and broke apart as the machine was hauling rebar at a site where the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is building an extension of the No. 7 subway line beyond Times Square.

The cause of the accident was under investigation by a variety of agencies Wednesday, including the police department and the Manhattan district attorney, and MTA officials disclosed little information about how it happened.

The transit agency announced it would immediately inspect all cranes at its construction sites, scattered throughout the city, in order to ensure they were being operated safely.

The disaster was getting extra attention because it was the city's third fatal crane accident in four years, and came following a series of scandals involving lax or corrupt oversight of the industry.

After a pair of catastrophic crane accidents crushed buildings and killed nine people in 2008, New York City officials did a major overhaul of the rules and safety procedures for cranes.

The rig at the subway tunnel site was exempt from most city construction safety rules because it was working for an independent state authority.

New York's City Council speaker, Christine Quinn called that lack of full adherence to city oversight a potential hazard.

In a news conference Wednesday, she said city officials responding to the accident had noticed conditions, like unguarded ledges, that would have earned the MTA a violation if it were required to abide by the city code.

"That is quite simply wrong," she said.

"The MTA should follow those rules that we worked so hard to devise," added City Council Member Jessica Lappin.

The MTA said it was weighing a proposal by Quinn to place all of its construction activity under the authority of the city's Buildings Department. Nevertheless, it said the Buildings Department already had jurisdiction on the cranes operating at the No. 7 subway line extension site because the work was being performed on city-owned property.

The Buildings Department declined to respond to questions about the inspections.

Officials at the construction company that owned and operated the crane, Yonkers Contracting Co., didn't return phone calls Wednesday.

Police identified the worker who was killed as Michael Simermeyer, 30, of Burlington, N.J. He was working at the site for a subcontractor, J & E Industries, which also didn't respond to a request for comment.

The crane involved in the accident was a ground-crawling machine called a Manitowoc 4100, a far smaller crane than the skyscraper-building behemoths involved in the fatal accidents in 2008.

"That's a very good crane. It's been around," said Tom Barth, a crane inspector and accident investigator based in Goose Creek, S.C.

Depending on the length of the boom, the crane is capable of picking up 200 to 230 tons, he said.

"Picking rebar would have been mostly a fairly light load for that crane," Barth said.

He said that the most likely cause for the boom collapsing under a load would be a snapped hoisting cable, but that it would be hard for any expert to suggest a cause without examining the site.

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Associated Press writer Cristian Salazar contributed to this report.