Hydraulic fluid leak preliminary cause of NYC crane fire, collapse

Dive Brief:

  • The collapse of a tower crane Wednesday at a construction site on Manhattan’s West Side was most likely caused by hydraulic fluid that leaked onto a hot plate near its engine, CBS New York reported
  • The crane, which was hoisting 16 tons of concrete to the 36th floor, collapsed and injured 12 people when the fire caused its cable to snap and its 180-foot-long boom to plummet to the ground, striking the building across the street, Fire Department of New York Deputy Fire Commissioner Joseph Pfeifer told reporters during a press conference after the collapse
  • The New York City Department of Buildings — which had inspected the jobsite earlier this month — has begun an initial investigation and has ordered work to stop at the 45-story, mixed-use project located at 550 10th Avenue, according to the DOB.

Dive Insight:

As it fell, the boom struck the top floors of 555 10th Avenue across the street — an occupied residential building in the Hudson Yards area — before the majority of the boom landed in the construction site. Preliminary investigations indicate both buildings remain structurally sound and not in danger of further collapse, the DOB told Construction Dive.

At this point, the incident appears accidental and there is no suspected criminality, CBS News said, citing a high-ranking city official.

Nine civilians and three firefighters sustained injuries, as morning commuters were diverted from the scene and nearby streets were shut down, according to the Fire Department of New York.

“This is a good morning, this could have been a lot worse,” Pfeifer said at Wednesday’s press conference.

DOB officials visited the site as recently as July 10 to perform a routine construction inspection. The agency last inspected the crane itself June 15, during a scheduled “jump” where additional sections were added to increase its height. Before that, the DOB inspected the crane on June 2, as part of an unannounced sweep of tower cranes in the city.

Drone help

New York City firefighters used a common construction tool to help combat the fire. A social media post from the fire department featuring David Melendez, a lieutenant in the city’s command tactical unit, showed drones being used as eyes in the sky, directing firefighters as they put out the flames.

“I think for us, it’s more of that situational awareness, and that also security, like ‘Hey, we know where we’ve got that fire, we’re under control,'” Melendez said. 

Ongoing investigation

The general contractor for the project, Brooklyn, New York-based Monadnock Construction Inc., commended the first responders and said it was cooperating with the investigation. 

“We are fully cooperating with all regulatory agencies and are available for any assistance that is needed,” read a Monadnock statement shared with Construction Dive. 

Brooklyn-based crane engineering firm Valjato Engineering and Long Island City, New York-based crane owner New York Crane & Equipment Corp. did not respond to Construction Dive’s request for comment.

New York Crane & Equipment Corp. has made headlines for construction accidents in the past. A crane collapse in 2008 in New York City caused the death of two construction workers, resulting in the company and its late owner James Lomma facing wrongful death suits. 

Lomma was later acquitted of manslaughter charges. A Manhattan jury eventually awarded $48 million in damages to the families of the killed workers, CBS New York reported.

Matt Thibault contributed to this report.

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