By Gina Cherelus
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A construction crane collapsed in lower Manhattan during a swirling snowstorm on Friday, killing one person, injuring three others and crushing cars parked in the street.
Hundreds of emergency workers responded after the 565-foot-tall crane toppled at about 8:30 a.m. EST and flipped upside down, leaving the metal boom stretched along nearly two city blocks.
At the time, workers were lowering the crane to secure it as winds approached 25 miles per hour, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news conference.
It was not yet known if wind played a role in the collapse. An investigation was underway and the crane operator was being interviewed, de Blasio said.
Manhattan resident David Wichs, 38, was killed in the collapse, police said. Three others had non-life-threatening injuries, including two with head lacerations, officials said.
De Blasio said pedestrians has been cleared from the street before workers began lowering the crane, averting a potentially greater calamity during the morning rush to work. "Thank God it was not worse," he said.
The crane was owned by Bay Crane, based in the New York City borough of Queens, and operated by Queens-based GTI, or Galasso Trucking. A person who answered the phone at Bay Crane declined to comment. A Galasso representative could not be reached.
The crane had been used since Jan. 30 at 60 Hudson Street, a landmark once known as the Western Union building. Workers were replacing generators and air conditioning equipment on the roof, officials said. The building is a major hub for telecommunications companies.
De Blasio said inspectors had visited the site on Thursday and recorded no safety concerns.
New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer issued a statement on Friday criticizing the buildings department for not implementing certain safety improvements.
"Crane safety is a crisis, but the city has not treated it like one," Stringer said.
A buildings department spokesman disputed Stringer's assertions and said there is "more oversight of cranes in place than ever before."
The "crawler crane" that fell is among 376 used in construction in New York City. Another 53 taller "tower cranes" are also being operated in the city.
After Friday's collapse, the city ordered all cranes to be shut down and secured due to the wind.
Witnesses described a deafening boom as the crane crashed to the street a few blocks from City Hall and a half-mile from the World Trade Center site.
Nicholi White, 20, who works for online grocer Fresh Direct, said he was waiting to deliver boxes when he saw it fall.
"When the crane hit the ground, I heard a loud bang, it sounded like a bomb," he said. "One of the loudest sounds I heard in my life."
A woman who was having her hair done at a nearby salon in preparation for her wedding at City Hall was escorted to the ceremony after the collapse by a fire department chaplain.
Four buildings were damaged, city officials said. They said they were also monitoring multiple gas leaks, none of which had risen to dangerous levels.
Wichs worked at financial trading firm Tower Research Capital in New York. A woman who answered the phone there declined to give her name but said the office staff was "deeply saddened." She called Wichs a wonderful person.
Officials said Friday's incident was the first fatal crane collapse involving a city-inspected crane since 2008. That year, nine people were killed in two separate collapses, prompting officials to impose stricter regulations on the industry.
In 2012, a construction crane partially collapsed on top of a nearly completed, 90-story apartment building during high winds brought by Superstorm Sandy. In 2013, a crane collapsed in Queens, injuring seven.
Last May, a cable on a construction crane also owned by Bay Crane snapped at a high-rise office building in Midtown Manhattan as it lifted an air conditioning unit. The unit plunged nearly 30 stories, injuring 10 people.
(Additional reporting by Herb Lash, Frank McGurty, Scott Malone, Suzannah Gonzales, Brendan McDermid and Dan Burns; Writing by Joseph Ax; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe, Toni Reinhold)