NEW YORK – In a dramatic scene, a construction crane atop a high-rise building in midtown Manhattan burst into flames and partially collapsed onto the street Wednesday morning, injuring six people, officials said.
The fire began just before 7:30 a.m. in the engine compartment of the crane, 45 stories above the street at 550 10th Ave., officials from the fire and buildings departments said.
A crane operator who had been working in the machine’s cabin, lifting 16 tons of concrete, saw the fire and tried but failed to put it out with a hand extinguisher before fleeing to safety. As the top part of the crane – and its 16-ton load – fell, it struck a neighboring building at 555 10th Ave.
Four civilians and two firefighters sustained minor injuries, officials said. One firefighter experienced chest pains and was taken to the hospital.
“This is a good morning, this could have been a lot worse,” Joseph W. Pfeifer, the deputy commissioner of the Fire Department, said during a news conference. Pfeifer said that more than 200 firefighters and emergency workers were on the scene.
Tyra Robbins, 26, who works at a building on 10th Avenue, between 34th and 35th streets, said she went outside after noticing a group of people who appeared to be taking photos of the sunrise. Instead, she said, she saw a crane leaning over the street. Within a minute, it had fallen.
“It was like it fell in slow motion,” Robbins said.
“I just froze. I couldn’t believe that was happening,” she said, adding that she saw a piece of the crane snap off and hit a building across the street.
Calvin Chapman, a construction worker on the site at 550 10th Ave., was working on the 26th floor when he looked up and saw electrical sparks. He said he and other steamfitters were running down the stairs when the crane arm fell past them around the 11th floor.
Michael Feeney, another worker on the site, said he saw the fire and fire trucks coming down 10th Avenue and immediately ran to the basement to release air from a pipe so the sprinkler system could be activated. While he was down there, he felt the crane fall.
“There was a boom. The ceiling, the walls, the ground, everything shook,” he said, adding: “It was nothing like I’ve ever been through before.
“I felt adrenaline going through my body,” Feeney said. “I thought: I need to leave, I got to get out of here, I don’t want to be under this building.”
Larry Krasner, who lives on the 54th floor of a building next to the site, said he did not see the crane fall but heard the explosion afterward.
“It was a big bang and then the fireball,” he said. He was working on the 45th floor of a building on Wall Street during the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and he saw the second plane hit the World Trade Center. He recalled that moment when he saw the explosion Wednesday, although he quickly realized that the crane collapse was not nearly as big.
The crane was being used in the construction of a 54-story, mixed-use building, Jimmy Oddo, the commissioner of the city’s Buildings Department, said at the news conference.
Officials said Monadnock Construction, the general contractor on the project, was responsible for one prior accident there: Workers hit a piece of ConEd equipment when they were first excavating the site.
The crane that collapsed was marked with the name Lomma, after James F. Lomma, a crane and construction entrepreneur who died in 2019. Cranes owned by Lomma’s companies, which include New York Crane and Equipment Corp. and Lomma Crane and Rigging, have been involved in several other high-profile accidents, including a 2008 collapse on the Upper East Side that killed two construction workers.
James Lomma was cleared of criminal charges in that incident but found liable for negligence in a civil trial in 2015 and ordered to pay $96 million in damages. He declared bankruptcy in 2016, and the following year a New York appeals court reduced the amount to be awarded to the families of the two men.
In February 2016, a crane collapsed in lower Manhattan after the crew failed to securely lower it during wind gusts that neared 20 mph. A pedestrian was killed, and three other people were injured. The large crane had the capacity to carry 330 tons and was rated to withstand 25 mph winds.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.