Spinning Crane at NYC High-Rise, Falling Debris Prompt Street Closures; No Injuries

The crane is designed to spin in the wind, a city official said, but inspectors are trying to determine what caused debris to fall

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A crane perched near the top of a midtown high-rise was left spinning from the strong winds Thursday evening, city officials said, forcing four blocks in Manhattan to close down as debris came falling from above.

The crane located adjacent to the top of the 85-story building at 111 West 57th Street, near Sixth Avenue, sparked fears for residents and anyone who happened to be walking below it. The FDNY said it received a call about falling debris just before 7 p.m. Thursday, Assistant Fire Chief John Hodgens said. When fire crews arrived at the scene, they couldn't see the top of the building due to the heavy wind and fog, Hodgens said.

It's unclear when the streets will reopen. Police said officials were assessing the situation Friday morning to see if there need to be any changes.

The city said that the crane was never in danger of collapse, but debris did fall from buildings. Video showed the crane spinning in a circle, high above the ground and coming very close to the new mega-luxury high-rise overlooking Central Park. Videos also showed pieces of larger debris plummeting from the high floors, creating sparks as they struck the rigging below the crane before falling onto the street below. Multiple pieces of what appeared to be metal were strewn about the blocked-off street.

The crane, which officials said is designed to withstand winds up to 100 mph, is stable and is being evaluated by inspectors, Department of Buildings spokesperson Andrew Rudansky said in an email. The crane is designed to swing in the wind, he said, but inspectors were at the scene determining what caused debris to fall.

Immediate safety concerns prompted the Department of Buildings to issue a full stop order at the construction site and placed the crane under a cease use order. The construction company managing the building's operations has also been issued a violation for "failure to safeguard" the site, the DOB said.

"Our technical engineers are back on scene today, working to determine exactly how this incident occurred , and who is responsible for this serious safety lapse. New York City has the strongest crane regulation in the country in place to protect the public, and an incident like this is unacceptable. We have stopped all work at the project, except operations to secure the site and make it safe," a Department of Buildings spokesperson said Friday.

The FDNY said what caused the problems was a ball attached to a cable at the end of the structure, similar to a wrecking ball. The cable became loose, dangling down further than it should have gone. As the crane swung, the FDNY said, that ball smashed into parts of the building, breaking apart debris and causing it to fall to the ground.

Engineers were able to reel the cable back in and secure the crane, but there are still parts of the building that are loose and could fall, according to the fire department. Some of the debris is made up of pieces of metal from the building that weigh as much as 300 pounds.

Four blocks in the area were closed off during the incident and hours afterward, and no injuries were reported. It's unclear when the streets will reopen back up but winds, which came with remnants of Hurricane Zeta, should ease by Friday.

The building, also known as the Steinway Tower, is developed by JDS Construction Group. It has been under construction, the city's Office of Emergency Management said. The building's website said that the "iconic new tower" was set to be completed this year.

U.S. Crane and Rigging, a company that installs the construction equipment in New York City, said that the crane was the "tallest freestanding crane in NYC's history, at 220 feet." It also boasted about the feat, calling it "one of the most extraordinary cranes to ever stand over NYC."

There have been other issues with the building in recent years. On a windy day in January of this year, a 6-inch by 6-inch piece of terra cotta fell from the 81st floor of the building. It hit a taxi cab below between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, leaving a sizable dent in its roof. A year before that, on Jan. 21, 2019, a piece of construction equipment came loose and winds caused it to hit and break windows. Pieces of glass fell from above and forced similar street closures for hours. No one was hurt in either incident.

The incident also comes eight years to the day after a different crane on a high-rise on the exact same block collapsed amid the powerful winds from Superstorm Sandy. In that 2012 scenario, the crane was near the top of 157 57th Street, another luxury tower along so-called "Billionaires' Row."

That crane was left dangling over the street until the severe weather was able to pass, and workers were able to safely secure it. In that instance, the project's construction manager said the tower crane was set up properly for the windy conditions, according to a report in the Engineering News-Record shortly after.

Lend Lease, the construction manager for that site, said the crane was put into a weathervane mode before the storm hit, which allows for it to spin in windy conditions, just as a flag would do.

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