Cause of deadly New York crane collapse under investigation

NEW YORK (AP) — It make take weeks to determine why a huge construction crane that was being lowered during strong winds came crashing down onto a street, killing a pedestrian and crushing a row of parked cars, city officials said Saturday.

Investigators are reviewing surveillance footage from nearby buildings and poring over the twisted, crumpled steel of the 565-foot-long crane, which came thundering down onto a historic Manhattan street 10 blocks north of the World Trade Center during Friday morning's commute.

Officials said they recovered the mobile crane's movement recording computer, which could provide clues — such as the angle of the boom — as to why the crane fell. But they cautioned its data was just one piece of the puzzle.

"It is not the equivalent of a black box," Department of Buildings Commissioner Rick Chandler said. "But I don't want to set the expectations too high. It's not going to give us data on wind speeds or the actions of the operators."

Work crews crawling over the sprawling accident site began to slice up the downed crane into as many as 35 pieces, which will be loaded by four other cranes onto flatbed trucks and removed for further study. Officials said they hoped to have the block of Worth Street cleared of debris by Monday morning.

It could be several days, though, before buildings whose pipes were crushed can have their water restored and before crews can repave the street and sign off on its stability.

Wall Street worker David Wichs, 38, was walking on the street below and was killed by the crane collapse. He was a mathematical whiz who worked at a computerized-trading firm, his family said. Born in Prague, he had moved to the United States as a teenager and graduated from Harvard University, said his sister-in-law, Lisa Guttman.

"He really created a life for himself," she said through tears. "He literally took every opportunity he could find."

Three other people were struck by debris and injured in the collapse.

The crane was used to install generators and air conditioning units atop a nearby high-rise and had been inspected by the Department of Buildings on Thursday to approve an extension, officials said. It had the capacity to carry as much as 330 tons.

The crane was rated to withstand wind gusts up to 25 mph, but when winds neared 20 mph on Friday the crew opted to secure it. A bystander's video taken through a window high above the ground showed the crane's arm descending in wind-blown snow and then taking the crane to the ground.

The crane's operator tested negative for drugs or alcohol and was cooperating with investigators. The crane was being used by Galasso Trucking and Rigging in Queens. Calls for comment were not returned.

Cranes dotting the skylines of Manhattan and Brooklyn have become increasingly commonplace and are emblematic of a building boom across the city, particularly of high-rise residential and commercial structures. Questions about their safety have persisted since two tower cranes collapsed in Manhattan within two months of each other in 2008, killing a total of nine people.

After Friday's crane collapse, Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered that all cranes in the city cease operation. Tower cranes attached to the sides of buildings were allowed to resume work Saturday, but crawling cranes like the one that fell Friday must first be approved by city inspectors before they can return to work.


Associated Press writer Colleen Long contributed to this report.