One Killed and Four Hurt in Crane Collapse on West Side
The worker who was killed when a crane collapsed in Manhattan on Tuesday night had until recently worked alongside his father and was trying to pay off student loans, according to his friends.
The worker, Michael Simermeyer, had been out of work for several months before he started working in construction last fall, first at the World Trade Center site, and this year at the site where he was killed, the friends said.
Mr. Simermeyer, 30, died when a 170-foot crane at the construction site, part of the extension of the No. 7 subway line, collapsed, officials said. Four other people were injured in an eerie reminder of two fatal crane accidents in the city four years ago.
“He joined the union to pay off student loans and he was working hard, 60 hours a week,” said Nick Mandarakas, 26, a life insurance salesman who described himself as one of Mr. Simermeyer’s closest friends. “He wanted to settle into his job, make enough money to someday buy a house and just enjoy life.”
About six months ago Mr. Simermeyer’s hand was injured while he was working, Mr. Mandarakas said, adding that his friend knew full well the dangers of his job, but believed nothing calamitous would happen.
“He understood the hazards, but he never thought it would happen to him,” he said. “Maybe a break here and there.”
It appeared that the accident occurred when the upper section of the crane broke off just before 7:30 p.m., during work on the extension at 34th Street, between 10th and 11th Avenues. A Fire Department spokesman said an 80-foot section and a 40-foot section from the crane fell.
It came down “like a dinosaur,” said a worker from the construction site who was waiting at Bellevue Hospital Center, where at least one victim was being treated.
One city official said there was some speculation among investigators at the scene that something in the back of the crane had snapped, causing it to become unbalanced.
“They’re looking at some kind of failure in the rear of the crane,” said the official, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which suspended work at the site, said the crane was owned and operated by Yonkers Contracting Company. The agency also said it was inspecting cranes being used at all M.T.A. construction sites. Yonkers Contracting is also involved in the East Side access project, which will allow Long Island Rail Road trains to stop at Grand Central Terminal.
Mr. Simermeyer had been close to his family and had only recently moved from their large, white Victorian-style home in Burlington, N. J., to an apartment in Lawrenceville, N.J., near Trenton, said Tim Kugler 29, who lives in Burlington and had known Mr. Simermeyer since high school.
Mr. Kugler said that while Mr. Simermeyer was still living in Burlington, they took turns hauling groceries and shoveling snow for an elderly couple who used to live on the same block. Mr. Simermeyer also installed exterior lights on Mr. Kugler’s house. “He was a good Samaritan, a hard worker, reliable, a handyman,” Mr. Kugler said. “He was a real good guy. I’ll miss him.”
On Wednesday morning, yellow tape could be seen stretched around parts of the construction site. In the center of the site, the collapsed crane could be seen, a section of its boom twisted and bent. About a dozen people in construction hats stood next to the crane, some gazing into a deep pit where workers had been when the accident occurred.
Roberto Ramirez, a truck driver, said he was at 11th Avenue and 33rd Street at the time. “It sounded like thunder,” he said.
Another truck driver, Kennon Murphy, described the sound of the collapsing crane as “a big boom.” After hearing the noise, he said, he looked up and saw that the crane was no longer visible.
One of those who showed up at the site on Wednesday morning was an ironworker, Ian Titus, who said he went to check that a friend who had been working there was fine. “It’s a tragedy,” Mr. Titus said. “Maybe we’ll learn something from this.” He went on to say that for those in the construction trade, the threat of serious injury or worse was part of the job. “Nobody plans to come out here to die, but that’s the risk you take when you come to a construction site,” he said.
As Mr. Tiitus spoke to reporters, one worker told him he should not speak to the news media. Later, a handful of construction workers, some wearing shirts that said Yonkers Contracting, began yelling and shouting profanities at reporters gathered on a sidewalk and one worker pushed a reporter.
The three other people injured in Tuesday evening’s accident were a crane operator, a flagman and a relative of one of the victims, said Jackie Sullivan, deputy chief of the city’s Emergency Medical Services.
A man at Bellevue who said he had known and worked with the man who died said the victim was a hard worker and “good natured.” That man, who was with another man who said he was the victim’s father, refused to provide his name. “It was a freak accident,” he added.
The damage from the accident appeared to be limited to the construction site, Mr. Browne said, with no reports from nearby buildings and no debris on the street.
It was unclear where the victims had been during the collapse, though the city official said two workers, including the man who died, became trapped. Some people were rescued from about 60 feet below ground, another official said. The Fire Department and the police said they had used ropes to lift them.
“It was a complicated job,” said Chief William Seelig of the Fire Department.
Chief Seelig said members of his department were told that a cable had snapped.
Mr. Sullivan said the rescue scene was a “very precarious area with a lot of construction material.”
Thomas Ruskin, a retired city police detective, said that shortly after the accident, he peered over a wall separating the construction site from the street and saw two victims being removed from the scene. Emergency workers were “performing C.P.R. on one victim,” he said.
Another man on the scene seemed to be receiving treatment for emotional distress or hyperventilation, Mr. Ruskin said. “The top part of the crane was lying on the upper part of the construction project,” he said.
Deputy Police Chief James McNamara said that detectives were interviewing workers and that there was no indication of criminality.
Delia Shumway, the Department of Buildings executive director of cranes and derricks, said: “We understand a 170-foot boom collapsed. We don’t know the cause.”
“On behalf of the entire M.T.A., we pray for the recovery of the workers injured as a result of this tragic accident tonight,” the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said in a statement. “We will work together with all proper authorities to conduct a thorough investigation.”
The accident came on the same day that the head of the M.T.A. raised doubts that the Bloomberg administration’s plan to extend the No. 7 subway line into New Jersey would materialize “in our lifetime.” The authority’s chairman,Joseph J. Lhota, said the proposal was too expensive.
In 2008, nine people died in two separate crane accidents in Manhattan. The first, in March, killed seven people and led to the resignation of Patricia J. Lancaster, the chief of the city’s Department of Buildings, who was criticized for approving the project, which did not conform to zoning rules.
In May of that year, two more people were killed in a crane accident on East 91st Street, which led to tougher regulations for crane projects. The new rules required that plans be filed before any crane was erected or dismantled and that crane operators complete 30 hours of training with an eight-hour refresher course every three years.
The collapses led to a number of criminal trials, including a manslaughter case now under way against the owner of the crane at the 91st Street site.