Some terrific reporting from the Times about the six dangerous days after the Midtown One57 crain accident. It was all worse than we knew, with a very real doomsday possibility of a major gas explosion in the heart of Manhattan.
“High above him, a 150-foot crane boom next to the building, one of the tallest construction projects in North America, was dangling. It had twisted and crumpled in the 80-mile-an-hour winds and was now threatening to plunge 1,000 feet to the street, onto a natural gas main, and possibly cause a major explosion.
…Mr. Alacha, in an interview this week, said that in the hours after the accident, he estimated that there was an 80 percent chance that the 26,000-pound boom would plummet to the street.
The story of what happened next at 157 West 57th Street, where a billionaire has agreed to pay $95 million for the duplex penthouse, suggests how close the city was last week to a catastrophe at the site. The surrounding blocks were evacuated for six days and the crisis became a riveting symbol of the city’s wounded infrastructure.” NY Times
Rescuing the Crippled Crane: For the first time since the storm, the developers, construction crew and city officials involved in the Midtown crane collapse share the panic-stricken moments in the effort to secure the machinery.
Published: November 6, 2012
Michael Alacha, a New York City buildings engineer, was racing up the stairwell of a 74-story luxury skyscraper being built in the heart of Midtown Manhattan. Hurricane Sandy was battering the region, and Mr. Alacha was trying to avert a disaster
High above him, a 150-foot crane boom next to the building, one of the tallest construction projects in North America, was dangling. It had twisted and crumpled in the 80-mile-an-hour winds and was now threatening to plunge 1,000 feet to the street, onto a natural gas main, and possibly cause a major explosion.
The story of what happened next at 157 West 57th Street, where a billionaire has agreed to pay $95 million for the duplex penthouse, suggests how close the city was last week to a catastrophe at the site. The surrounding blocks were evacuated for six days and the crisis became a riveting symbol of the city’s wounded infrastructure.
Several serious crane accidents have occurred in the city in recent years, touching off investigations that have examined whether the construction industry is using aging equipment and poorly trained workers.
The accident on Oct. 29 has renewed such concerns. Questions have been raised about whether contractors and regulators should have done more to ensure the crane was secure in the days before the storm — and whether the city should revamp its policies to prevent future accidents.
But the crane was inspected a week earlier and considered in good shape. At least preliminarily, city officials are calling the failure of the boom a freakish occurrence. Still, they are carrying out an extensive inquiry into what happened.
Mr. Alacha, in an interview this week, said that in the hours after the accident, he estimated that there was an 80 percent chance that the 26,000-pound boom would plummet to the street.
“We still had another 6 to 10 hours of severe wind,” he said. “It was rocking. Usually, metal gets fatigued and it would let go.”
For Mr. Alacha, 54, the dangling crane became an obsession, even as his home on the Rockaway Peninsula suffered flooding and his family was forced to move in with relatives.
On Oct. 26, as warnings about the storm grew dire still three days before it hit, the Buildings Department issued an order to suspend outside work at buildings under construction in New York City.
Contractors were told to take special measures to secure about six dozen huge tower and crawler cranes. Most often, that meant putting the crane’s boom at a 67-degree angle so that it would swivel, or weathervane, with the prevailing wind, rather than try to resist it.
On the day that Hurricane Sandy arrived, Nicholas J. Grecco, a senior vice president at Lend Lease, the construction company at the site, returned to his apartment on Fifth Avenue at 62nd Street after an 11-hour shift at the building. He had been making sure that equipment, materials and hatches were tied down, he said.
As Mr. Grecco kicked off his boots at 2:35 p.m., he glanced out his window, which offered a view through the tree line of the 57th Street tower. Suddenly, he said, the crane’s boom disappeared from sight.
He bolted back on foot to the construction site.
At the time, Mr. Alacha was in the Buildings Department’s emergency command post at 280 Broadway, where he saw a newscast of the boom flipping over.
“It was something I never wanted to see,” he said.
He jumped in a car, sirens on, heading north.
By the time both men reached the site, Engine Company 23 of the Fire Department had cordoned off the scene.
Mr. Alacha, Mr. Grecco and Timothy Lynch, who leads the Building Department’s forensic engineering unit, took an inside elevator to the 20th floor of the tower and began hiking up the stairs.
Conditions above the 60th floor were dangerous, open to the raging storm. A heavy plywood door blew off its hinges on a higher floor. Mr. Lynch narrowly avoided an open shaft. The three men exchanged nervous jokes.
“It was the last time I laughed for the next three days,” Mr. Grecco said.
Firefighters were already at the 70th floor, linked by safety lines and examining the boom. The ties holding the mast appeared to have held up well. But the boom was another matter. Mr. Alacha told the firefighters to return to the street and set up an evacuation zone.
“In my mind, the boom was going to go,” he said.
For hours, members of the Fire Department, Consolidated Edison crews and other emergency workers labored to shut off the gas main below and clear people from surrounding buildings. They recalled that they hoped the boom would stabilize, giving them time to develop a plan for securing it with cable.
With the wind easing on Tuesday, Mr. Lynch, a dedicated runner, once more ascended to the top of the tower, where he determined that the mast was not in immediate danger of pulling away from the building, and the boom was holding.
It took several days for officials, construction executives and crane experts from around the world to figure out how to lash the boom to the building.
On Saturday morning, three riggers climbed inside the turntable at the top of the crane, where they disengaged the hydraulic motor before manually cranking the turntable counterclockwise, until the boom hugged the side of the building.
Workers then tied the boom with eight cables to building columns on three floors for stability.
At 5 p.m. Sunday, the city reopened 57th Street.
This week, a visitor to the 74th floor had a spectacular view of the damaged boom, its steel bars looking twisted and fragile. The bolts fastening newly installed beams tethered to the boom glistened in the sun.
Lend Lease, which brought in experts from Europe and Australia, intends to cut the broken boom into five-foot sections in order to haul it down from the tower in the construction hoist. The company plans to install a new crane to continue work on the building, which is scheduled to be finished next year.
“I hope it has a happy ending,” said the building’s developer, Gary Barnett of Extell Development. “I’m still not breathing.”