One person was killed and three people were injured Friday when a crane collapsed onto a Lower Manhattan street, striking buildings before crashing onto parked cars, authorities said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, speaking at news conference near the scene, said that while the wind was picking up, workers were trying to secure the crane when it toppled onto the street shortly before 8:30 a.m.
The tangled metal wreckage spanned roughly two blocks, and the impact caused leaks to gas and water mains in the area.
The collapse made for a jarring scene with the hulking piece of construction equipment – its boom stretching 565 feet – filling a typically busy area of Lower Manhattan.
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The person killed, identified by the police as David Wichs, 38, of the Upper West Side, was sitting in a car parked when the crane fell, authorities said. Two people were seriously injured by falling debris: A 45-year-old woman who injured her leg and had a laceration on her head was taken to New York Downtown Hospital; a 73-year-old man who had a laceration on his head was taken to Bellevue Hospital Center. Both are in stable condition. A third person had minor injuries.
At the news conference, de Blasio said it was remarkable that the human toll was not worse, with the collapse coming during the morning rush in an area typically bustling with commuters. He said that as the crane was being secured, workers on the ground were keeping pedestrians away and that the precaution had saved lives.
“This is a very, very sad incident – we’ve lost a life,” de Blasio said. But, he added, “It was something of a miracle there wasn’t more impact.”
The crane was doing work on the former Western Union building, city officials said. Immediately after the collapse, a city official, citing preliminary information, said that at least 15 people had been injured, but as officials gathered information, the injury toll was revised.
Many streets in the area have been closed, and the scene was crowded with emergency responders searching cars for anyone who might be trapped, as well as with workers from utility companies checking gas lines. Multiple gas leaks have been found nearby, but authorities said that the leaks had not reached dangerous levels and were being closely monitored. Gas has been turned off in the immediate area.
New York City Transit said trains were bypassing stations nearby.
The machine, known as a crawler crane, was last inspected by the city’s Buildings Department on Thursday in order to approve an extension to its present length. The crane was being used for a project to replace generators and air conditioning units on top of the building, officials said.
De Blasio said that as crews arrived Friday, they noted the high winds, reaching 20 mph, and went ahead with securing the crane. The crane is supposed to be secured when winds reach 25 mph, he said.
As a precaution, the city has ordered 376 other crawler cranes operating in the city to be secured, as well as 43 of the larger tower cranes, the mayor said.
Investigations by the New York Police Department and the Building Department have been initiated. “This is being treated as a scene where we want to get all the facts about what happened here,” de Blasio said.
Family of the man crushed to death when a crane collapsed on his car say he was a Harvard-educated immigrant who worked tirelessly to succeed in life.
Lisa Guttman told The Associated Press on Friday her brother-in-law David Wichs was “the most brilliant person ever.”
She says Wichs was born in Prague, immigrated to the U.S. as a teen and took every opportunity he could, graduating with a degree in mathematics from Harvard University.
Officials say he was killed in Lower Manhattan while sitting in his car when a giant crane collapsed as workers were lowering it amid a snow squall.
Guttman says Wichs worked at the New York-based computerized financial trading firm Tower Research Capital.
A company representative didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment.
Guttman called Wichs “the most special person ever.”
Dan Vaughan, 47, an electrician, was working on the 36th floor of a nearby building when he and a colleague saw the crane shaking in the snow and wind; it crashed as workers were trying to lower it. “The wind blew it down,” Vaughan said.
A veteran of construction jobs, he said he did not know why the workers kept it upright during the storm. “That crane should have been down last night,” he said.
The crane hit part of a building and crashed onto a car, Vaughan said.
Robert Harold, a Legal Aid lawyer, was in his office nearby. He said heard an enormous crash, and saw the crane stretch across the north side of Worth Street.
He said he saw people trying to help a person trapped in a car, and another person lying lifeless in the street.
“It was a crashing sound,” Harold, 59, said. “It shook the building. You could feel the vibration.”
James C. McKinley Jr. and William K. Rashbaum of The New York Times and The Associated Press contributed reporting. Susan C. Beachy contributed research.