Colin Mixson, Nicholas Williams, Sheetal Banchariya, Ellen Moynihan, Thomas Tracy and Larry McShane
New York Daily News
A machine deck fire sent a construction crane boom plunging 45 stories to the Midtown Manhattan streets, with terrified pedestrians running for their lives to the terrifying sound of the tumbling equipment on Wednesday morning.
The flames caused severe damage to the 180-foot-long boom once the fire ignited high above 550 10th Ave. at 7:25 a.m., and the arm collapsed with a 16-ton load of concrete headed to the 36th floor and several loud bangs while plowing into a high-rise building across the street.
A plume of thick black smoke, visible above the New York skyline for miles, rose as the sleepy neighborhood was rattled by the breakfast-time chaos, with pieces of debris continuing to fall hours later at the site.
“I thought my building was going down, honestly,” said Julie Adams, 34, whose apartment on the 24th floor of neighboring 555 10th Ave. shook violently when struck by the falling construction equipment.
A source told the Daily News the preliminary cause of the construction fire and crane collapse was a hydraulic fluid leak from the engine compartment onto a heated metal plate, sparking the accidental blaze on the deck atop the building.
Officials said nine civilians and three firefighters were injured in the aftermath of the collapse. The fire was declared under control at 11:44 a.m., according to the FDNY.
“Thank God the injuries were minor,” Mayor Eric Adams said at the scene. “This could have been much worse. We were extremely fortunate.”
Michael Lyles, a maintenance worker at a nearby skyscraper, credited construction workers with saving lives by scrambling to shut down the streets and steer pedestrians away from the potentially lethal situation.
“The construction crew was very on point,” he said. “When they saw there was a fire, they started blocking off the street and pushing people back. That’s when the crane fell.”
Neighborhood resident Perry DellAquila, 56, said he was checking e-mails on his computer before the sound of the collapsing crane rumbled through the local streets.
“I heard the crash and I was like, ‘Wow, that doesn’t sound right,’” he recounted. “And when I just looked out the window, I saw the last piece of debris hitting the (street). It hit the side of the building and then hit the middle of the street.”
Fellow local resident Elan Levine, 28, was walking his dog Arya when the collapse turned their morning outing into instant chaos.
“It was deafening,” said Levine. “I didn’t freak out but my dog did. ... There were firefighters, police and ambulances. And within two to five minutes, the arm fell.”
His building at 561 10th Ave. was evacuated, with FDNY responders advising him to stay outside.
The five-alarm blaze brought 50 FDNY units with 220 firefighters to the scene, with fire officials deploying drones to ensure the fire was extinguished.
City Buildings Commissioner James Oddo said an investigation into the accident was already underway. Monadnock Construction, the acting general contractor for the site, issued an afternoon statement on the accident.
“Safety is a priority for Monadnock Construction Inc. at this and every project,” the company said. “We are fully cooperating with all regulatory agencies and are available for any assistance that is needed. We are unable to provide any additional details regarding the incident at this time.”
Brooklyn-based Valjato Engineering CEO Steve Valjato, whose company was the crane engineer, declined comment to the Daily News. The on-site concrete safety manager was identified as Cross Country Construction.
The crane’s owner, identified as NY Crane & Equipment Corp., was headed by James Lomma until his death in 2019. A crane owned by Lomma collapsed on the Upper East Side in May 2008, killing two workers. Though the businessman was acquitted of manslaughter in 2012, the families of the dead workers received $35 million from the company.
When reached Wednesday, a staffer at Lomma could not immediately comment on the latest collapse.
Local resident Gwyneth Leech, a painter who specializes in construction sites, recalled how quickly things escalated.
“First we heard a huge clattering noise at 7:30 a.m.,” she recalled. “Then we came down and saw the crane was on fire.”
After the fire began, the arm of the crane broke loose and fell in an arc onto cars along 10th Avenue.
Stunning video showed the crane arm slamming into a nearby building before swinging back into the high-rise where the accident occurred and falling straight down. Most of the crane boom landed within the construction zone of 550 10th Ave., officials said.
Firefighters evacuated neighboring buildings, including at least one hotel, and closed streets to cars and pedestrian traffic as they battled the blaze.
Videos posted on social media showed the mangled arm on the sidewalk and thick black plumes of smoke pouring from the top of the crane as firefighters rained water onto the flames from adjoining buildings.
“Sounded like lightning or an explosion from the top of a crane on 41st st.,” Josh Page tweeted. “Firefighters hosing it down from the building parallel.”
The luxury rental tower the crane was atop was still under construction and expected to be completed next year, according to the developer’s website.
Nicole Lyons, 38, who lives at 450 W. 42nd St., watched the fire burn for about an hour before shifting winds started blowing smoke toward her building. She decided to evacuate but became unnerved while waiting for an elevator and opted for the stairs.
“Panic set in,” she said. “I said, ‘21st floor — I can do it.’”
©2023 New York Daily News. Visit at nydailynews.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Ellen Moynihan, Janon Fisher
New York Daily News
The operator of the crane at the center of Wednesday’s disaster in Midtown was previously charged in a 2008 construction accident that resulted in the death of his co-worker.
Chris Van Duyne, 62, who the Department of Buildings said was at the controls around 7:30 a.m. when his tower hoist burst into flame, caught the blame 15 years ago for a workplace death involving compromising safety equipment on another construction crane in Midtown.
Van Duyne and his brother James Van Duyne had their crane operators’ licenses suspended for eight months and were slapped with administrative charges after Anthony Esposito, 48, fell 400 feet to his death on Sept. 4, 2008 during the construction of Silverstein Towers at 600 W. 42nd St. — just a block away from Wednesday’s chaotic scene.
The brothers had cut the guardrail of a platform on the tower crane 40 stories above the sidewalk, according to a joint investigation between the Department of Buildings and the Department of Investigations.
Esposito, who was wearing a safety harness that was not attached, lost his footing when the platform shifted and plummeted to his death, authorities said.
The brothers were charged with endangering public safety and violating city construction codes and fined $25,000 each. They were both required to complete 30 hours of DOB safety training during their suspensions.
“The irresponsible removal of a safety railing played a critical role in the death of a member of this rigging crew. It was a shortcut gone terribly wrong that compromised rigging operations and put the lives of fellow workers in jeopardy,” DOB Commissioner Robert LiMandri said at the time.
DFC Structures is an affiliate of DiFama Concrete, which formerly was run by Joseph Fama, an alleged Luchese crime family associate, who divested his interest in the firm in 2005 after pleading guilty to federal racketeering and extortion charges.
The preliminary cause of Wednesday’s construction crane fire and collapse near Hudson Yards was a hydraulic fluid leak onto a heated metal plate, which sparking the accidental blaze, a source told the Daily News.
Attempts to reach Christopher Van Duyne on Wednesday were unsuccessful. James Van Duyne refused to comment.
Relatives of Esposito also declined to comment.