The Crane Brethren

Yesterday our office received a call from a client involved in the March 15, 2008, collapse of a crane at a construction project on East 51st Street in Manhattan. The news that another crane collapsed when the top of the crane on an East 91st Street construction site had snapped off, crashed into a building across the street and killed two construction workers had hit our client personally; he had received a telephone call from a crane operator that he knew from his work that identified the crane operator who died in the latest collapse as a friend of our client. Our client felt like he had lost a member of his family.

The dead workers were identified at Donald Leo, 30, of Staten Island, and Ramadan Kurtaj, 27, of The Bronx. A third worker, Simeon Alexis, had his “chest slashed open” and remained hospitalized today. Investigators are focusing on a bad weld as the possible cause of yesterdays accident. The crane came apart as it wheeled around to grab a load of electrical supplies bound for the upper floors of 333 E. 91st Street, workers at the hi-rise site said.

Photos taken at the top of the crane tower after the turntable fell Friday showed two thin beads of welding material which were broken away in some places. Investigators were also trying to determine whether the rotating plate that connects the cab and boom at the top to the tower had been removed from a different construction job, the construction of the Platinum condominium at Eighth Avenue and 46th Street, a year ago after developing a dangerous crack. That turntable was the same Kodiak model and was also owned by New York Crane and Equipment, which supplied the crane at the 91st Street construction site.

Investigators will check whether the identifying numbers etched into the turntable in yesterday’s accident are the same as the Platinum’s cracked turntable. The weld that apparently failed may have been made when the turntable was repaired and reassembled.

The crane was leased from New York Crane and Equipment by Sorbara Construction Corp., the concrete contractor on the project. The general contractor at the site is the Leon D. Dematteis Corporation, which is also a co-developer of the building, along with the Mattone Group and the New York City Department of Education. The project was to include a school at the base of the 34-story building.

The March 15 accident occurred when sections were being added to increase the cranes height (a process called a jump) and a collar high up on the crane that may not have been supported properly during the jump fell, knocking out the cranes supports and causing it to collapse onto nearby buildings.

After the March accident, the city enacted new regulations, mostly involving procedures for erecting, jumping and dismantling cranes. The rules called for safety meetings before operations could begin and for jump procedures to be spelled out by an engineer.

The city also beefed up its inspections of cranes. This past April 28 – May 2, 2008, was New York Citys 4th annual Construction Safety Week, the purpose of which is to advance safe construction practices

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