New York Rescuers Search for 3 Still Missing after Crane Collapse

By Marcus Franklin | March 18, 2008

Three people remained missing more than a day after a construction crane crashed down on a Manhattan neighborhood, killing at least four workers, injuring dozens and damaging six buildings.

“There’s no sign of life so far,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Sunday afternoon near the scene of the deadly accident. But that doesn’t mean rescuers won’t find any as they “go in and get closer,” he added.

Crews worked through the night, hunting for two more workers and a woman believed to be inside a demolished town house. Officials haven’t identified them.

“We’re still calling it a search operation,” said Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta. But, he said, “with each passing hour, things get a little more grim.”

The missing woman had come from Miami to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and to visit a friend who lived in the town house, said John LaGreco, owner of Fubar, a saloon on the ground floor of the town house. The woman was in her friend’s second-floor apartment at the time of the accident, he said. Her friend was rescued, he said.

Debris was cleared “delicately and meticulously” to prevent further damage, said Buildings Department Commissioner Pat Lancaster, who joined the mayor and other officials at the scene.

Crews also removed a 25-foot section of the white crane that broke into pieces Saturday afternoon, and had about 180 feet left to remove, along with piles of the debris from the damaged buildings, Lancaster said.

The crane rose 19 stories and was attached to an apartment tower under construction when it broke away Saturday and toppled like a tree onto buildings as far as a block away.

Four workers were killed in the accident. They were identified as Wayne Bleidner, 51, of Pelham; Brad Cohen, 54, of Farmingdale; Anthony Mazza, 39; and Aaron Stephens, 45, of New York City, police said Sunday.

Twenty-four others were injured, including 11 first responders, Bloomberg said. Eight people remained hospitalized, officials said.

Officials were investigating whether human or mechanical error led to the construction-site accident, which the mayor described as among the city’s worst.

City officials said the broken crane passed inspection Friday.

Investigators were focusing on a heavy-duty collar used to tie the crane to the building’s side, including whether a series of hoists and nylon straps was strong enough to sustain its weight, Lancaster told the New York Times.

The city had answered 38 complaints and issued more than a dozen violations in the past 27 months to the construction site where a 43-story high-rise condominium was going up. None of the violations was related to the crane, Bloomberg said.

On Sunday, the Reliance Construction Group, the project’s contractor, released a statement expressing sympathy to the families of the dead and injured and said it was cooperating with government investigators.

“We have already launched our own internal investigation to understand exactly what caused this tragedy and we believe it is prudent not to comment further at this time,” the company said.

Reliance said it had subcontracted different parts of the job and that New York Crane owned the crane. Repeated messages for New York Crane have not been returned.

About 250 cranes operate in the city on any given day, and the accident shouldn’t alarm New Yorkers living near high-rise construction sites, the mayor said. “This is a very tragic but also a very rare occurrence,” he said.

But neighborhood residents and a Manhattan borough official raised concerns about city inspections at the apartment tower.

“I warned the Buildings Department on March 4 that it was not sufficiently braced against the building,” said Bruce Silberblatt, a retired contractor and vice president of the Turtle Bay Neighborhood Association.

Retired ironworker Kerry Walker, who with his wife lived in the top-floor apartment of the four-story town house and left minutes before the collapse, had complained that the crane appeared dangerously unstable, his stepson said.

“He knows all about cranes and said this one had no braces, everything was too minimal,” John Viscardi said. “He told one friend on the phone that ‘if you don’t hear from me, it’s because the crane fell on my house.'”

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Associated Press writers Karen Matthews and Richard Pyle contributed to this report.

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