By JAKE OFFENHARTZ and KAREN MATTHEWS
NEW YORK (AP) — A towering construction crane caught fire high above the West Side of Manhattan on Wednesday morning, causing its long arm to snap off, smash against a nearby building and plummet to the street as people ran for their lives on the sidewalk below.
Several people suffered minor injuries in the collapse, but no one died, New York City Mayor Eric Adams said.
“As you can see from the debris on the street, this could have been much worse,” the Democrat said at a news conference, noting that the street at that hour of the morning is often filled with pedestrians, cars and buses.
The crane was operating 45 stories up when its engine compartment caught fire at around 7:25 a.m., authorities said. Photos and videos on social media show flames bursting from the crane hundreds of feet above 10th Avenue at 41st Street. The crane’s arm, which was carrying a 16-ton load of concrete, dangled before breaking off.
“That weight of 16 tons is attached by a cable,” said Joseph Pfeifer, first deputy commissioner for the Fire Department of New York. “As the fire heats the cable, the cable weakens to a point where it loses its strength, and that’s where the collapse occurred.”
The person operating the crane tried to put out the fire as it spread but had to flee to safety, Pfeifer said.
Nine civilians experienced minor injuries in the collapse or its aftermath, according to a fire department spokesperson. Two firefighters experienced heat exhaustion and chest pains.
A worker at a nearby construction site said everyone stopped and watched as flames engulfed the top of the crane and a column of black smoke rose above buildings. Within a few minutes, firefighters were shooting water down at the blaze from a balcony of an adjacent building.
“I never seen anything like that,” said Charles Pescatore, 18, a college helper on a construction site a few blocks away. “It could have killed a bunch of people.”
The cause of the fire is being investigated. Authorities said they also planned to investigate the structural integrity of the residential tower, which is under construction and expected to rise to 54 stories.
The crane is owned by the New York Crane & Equipment Corp., one of the city’s most widely used crane providers, officials said. The Queens-based company has been involved in other crane problems in recent years, leading to criminal charges and new safety measures around New York City’s crane operations.
The company did not respond to a request for comment.
In May of 2008, a collapse of the company’s tower crane killed two workers on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The company and its owner, James Lomma, were acquitted of manslaughter and other charges; a mechanic pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide.
It was one of two deadly crane accidents in 2008, leading to the resignation of the city’s buildings commissioner, as well as new safety measures around testing and oversight of crane operations.
Five years later, a crane owned by the company left a concrete cube dangling above a bustling pedestrian area for several hours, shutting down a major thoroughfare in Midtown Manhattan.
Delecia McInnis, a Long Island resident who saw the crane come down Wednesday, said she was surprised no one was seriously injured.
“There’s so many things going on at 7 o’clock in the city, people are going to school, summer camp, there’s always someone around in this area,” she said.
The location is near the Port Authority Bus Terminal and an entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel, which carries auto traffic to and from New Jersey under the Hudson River. Streets surrounding the site were closed to traffic Wednesday morning.