Safety summit follows New York City crane collapse

Sunday, June 1, 2008

NEW YORK -- Building department officials gathered for an emergency safety summit Saturday after the city's second deadly crane collapse in recent months, 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," city council member Jessica Lappin said at 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," Stringer said.

Investigators have not determined what caused the collapse Friday, which stoked fears about the potential hazards of the city's building boom. The crane collapsed two and a half 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 Department 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 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 the 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 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."

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.

Building department officials had looked at the crane three times this month, most recently Thursday. No violations had been issued.

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

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

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