1 Dead, 1 Seriously Hurt in Partial Building Collapse in Midtown: Officials

A five-story building being demolished to make way for a luxury boutique hotel partially caved in Friday in midtown, killing one construction worker and trapping another beneath the rubble for three hours before he was rescued, officials said.

The debris formed a V-shape cavity when it collapsed, and the worker had been trapped at the bottom of the V — the most difficult place to extract someone because it is so unstable, fire officials said. The worker was in serious but stable condition after emergency crews using specialized tools dug him out, and a doctor attended to him while he was still in the rubble.

"The building is, of course, a very dangerous place to work," Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said.

The collapse was reported just before 10:30 a.m. at the building on West 38th Street, fire officials said. The building pancaked from the fifth floor to the basement level. Officials said 19 workers were on site, and 17 escaped uninjured. Pedro Bacilio, 26, of Brooklyn, died. The name of the injured man wasn't immediately released.

It's not clear what caused the collapse. Buildings officials said the company had all the necessary permits to demolish the site and had been cited for excessive debris on Aug. 25 but nothing more serious. There was no stop-work order, though the engineer on Thursday had requested a work-stop until the building could be further shored, officials said. It's not clear if that work was happening Friday.

Rick Chandler, commissioner of the Department of Buildings, said a stop-work order was issued for the building. He said the neighboring buildings are stable.

"Our thoughts are with the workers, their families, and everyone affected by this tragedy," Chandler said in a statement. "We are reminded of the risks of construction work, particularly in the demolition of buildings, and the duty of safety professionals and everyone in the construction industry to ensure work sites are as safe possible."

A 28-story, 180-room Aloft boutique hotel was scheduled to open at the location in May 2018. Starwood Hotels, which will operate the hotel, said it was not involved with construction at this stage of the project and directed questions to the developer, Fortuna Realty Group.

"We are very saddened to hear media reports of the accident and our thoughts are with the family of the worker who was reported to have lost his life and with workers who were injured," Starwood said in a statement.

A woman who answered the phone at Fortuna Realty Group's office declined to comment and referred calls to Northeast Service Interiors, a demolition company. Northeast said its owners were at the site and couldn't immediately respond to a telephone call.

According to Fortuna's website and building records, it bought the property in 2012 for $11.8 million. City Buildings Department records show a permit for full demolition of the existing building was issued in May. It appears some construction has been in the works since then - permits have been issued for sprinkler systems, electrical work and other things.

Robert Bankston, a demolition contractor who formerly worked on the site, said the two neighboring buildings were sound when the project began.

"It wasn't like the buildings were falling down," Bankston said.

He said his company left the project about a month ago amid a financial disagreement with the general contractor.

At least 60 firefighters responded to the collapse. Capt. Dominic Vertucci said it was a dangerous and prolonged rescue because of the fragile way the debris settled.

NYPD Sgt. Michael Edwards of the emergency services unit said the trapped worker was conscious and able to squeeze the hands of rescue crews, but he seemed to be in pain.

"He was cooperative," Edwards said. "He wasn't panicking."

Edwards and other crew members said they were relieved by the rescue.

"It's a feeling of elation," he said. "The rest of us want to get out without being stuck in the collapse as well."

-Andrew Siff and Sheldon Dutes contributed to this report

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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