Crane accident in Briarwood, Queens leaves 2 dead, FDNY says

A crane accident in Briarwood, Queens killed two workers on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, officials said.
A crane accident in Briarwood, Queens killed two workers on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, officials said. Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

The crane accident that killed a pair of construction workers in Queens on Tuesday was likely due to equipment failure, the Department of Buildings commissioner said.

Crane operator George Smith, 47 of Brooklyn, was lifting a 6,500-pound beam four stories up about 12:20 p.m. when it became disengaged from the crane and fatally struck 43-year-old Alessandro Ramos, of Queens, police said. 

The crane then fell on the cab while Smith was inside, killing him as well, police said.

Ramos was working as a flag person at the construction site at 81-10 134th St. in Briarwood, which appeared to be part of a seven-story residential development. The job typically describes someone who manages traffic flow on a construction site.

Department of Buildings Commissioner Rick D. Chandler said the accident was likely caused by a failure in the rig itself.

“There are a number of ways the rigging could fail,” he said, after touring the site. “We will look at all of the factors here.”

Cranes Express, the company that owned the crane involved in Tuesday’s accident, was inspected by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration last year and cited for not ensuring ground preparations for one of their cranes in Cliffside Park, New Jersey. Cranes Express paid a $3,500 fine and the case was closed on March 1, according to OSHA records.

The crane involved last passed city inspection in June, Chandler said. He said a master rigger was not present on the site and this type of construction doesn’t mandate one be there.

Both the project’s developer, Musso Properties LLC, and the contractor, Pav-LAK Contracting, declined to comment. A woman who answered the phone at Cranes Express also declined to comment.

Chandler said although the investigation is only just beginning, it didn’t appear that wind was a major factor in the incident. 

The forecast for Briarwood on Tuesday included sustained winds between 23 and 25 mph, with gusts of up to 36 mph, according to the National Weather Service. The exact wind speed at the time of the accident was not immediately known.

Edwin Palacios, 35, who lives in a building that overlooks the construction site, said he has worried about his own safety before.

“Every time I pass down the hill in may car, I feel ‘oh my God, it’s not safe,’” Palacios said.

His neighbor, Maria Perez, said she feels the crane is too close to her window and is often “scared.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio called the incident “a tragedy,” but said an investigation into whether it was mechanical or human error would be conducted.