From The New York Times (3/15/08):
Crane Topples in Manhattan, Killing at Least 4 People
By Carla Baranauckas
Chang W. Lee/The New York Times - Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said the top of a construction crane detached and fell onto a four-story town house at 305 East 50th Street, destroying the building. More Photos >
A large crane at a construction site on Manhattan’s East Side collapsed Saturday afternoon, killing at least four people, officials at the scene said
The big, white crane, which looked to be about 20 stories tall, appeared to have toppled across a street and crashed into other nearby buildings.
The accident happened at 303 East 51st Street, near Second Avenue about 2:20 p.m., the authorities said.
Aides to the Manhattan borough president, Scott Stringer, said they had been told by the Office of Emergency Management that the crane fell on two buildings, destroying one at 305 East 50th Street and partly collapsing 301 East 50th Street.
People were believed to be trapped in the rubble.
“This is an absolute disgrace,” Mr. Stringer said. “We need better inspection and more resources.”
There are at least nine open violations on the construction site for a 44-story condominium building that are “quite serious,” he said.
Ismael Garcia, who was working on the 15th floor of the building under construction, said that just before the crane collapsed, it was lifting material that apparently fell and struck a girder that connected the crane to the building.
“Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a piece falling,” he said.
There was a loud crash, and he rushed to the edge of the building to peer out over the street below. “I saw a guy laying on the roof there,” he said, looking down on a building below. “His head was under the debris.”
Stephen Kaplan, an owner of the Reliance Construction Group, which manages the condominium construction site told The Associated Press. said the crane had been scheduled to be raised on Saturday so work could begin on higher stories of the building.
He said a piece of steel fell, shearing one of the ties holding the crane to the building. “It was an absolute freak accident,” Mr. Kaplan told The A.P. “All the piece of steel had to do was fall slightly left or right, and nothing would have happened.”
Mr. Kaplan said his company had subcontracted the work to different companies and was not in charge of the crane.
Bartle Bull, who has lived in the neighborhood for 30 years, said he was not surprised that the crane had fallen. “What I’ve seen for the last two months is reckless construction and lack of enforcement,” he said. “We have said this crane is going to come down.”
Mr. Bull said he deliberately avoided walking along 51st Street “because this thing looks so dangerous.”
He said he had been watching the Yankees game in a restaurant when the accident happened. “We heard this incredible explosion, someone opened the door and the dust came in,” he said.
John PlaGreco, who owns Fubar, located in the building that was crushed, told The A.P. that be believed one of his employees was in the rubble.
“Our bar is done,” he said. “The crane crashed the whole building. If I wasn’t watching a Yankees game, I would’ve come to work early and gotten killed.”
The streets around the collapse site were filled with dirt and debris, with at least one car turned over by the force of the structure’s fall.
Alfonso Quiroz, a spokesman for Con Edison, said the company had turned off the gas to at least six buildings in the area as a precaution.
“As a precaution we do that often when something like this happens in cooperation with the fire department and the police department to make the area safe,” Mr. Quiroz said.