With the popping of cables and the snapping of metal, a crane collapsed onto a building under construction near the East River waterfront Wednesday, injuring seven people, three of whom needed to be extricated from underneath the fallen machinery.
The red crane toppled around 2:30 p.m., sprawling across the metal scaffolding and wood planking that made up the first floor skeleton of a residential building in the New York City borough of Queens behind a big neon "Pepsi Cola" sign, a local landmark. Workers putting up the second floor framework scrambled to get out of the way.
"Once that snap came, that was it," said Russell Roberson, 32, of Brooklyn. "I just heard guys yelling, 'Run, run!"
The people who had to be extricated from underneath the crane suffered a range of injuries, broken bones being the most severe, Deputy Fire Chief Mark Ferran said. He said emergency services personnel didn't need heavy machinery to get them out. None of the injuries was life-threatening.
Preston White, 48, a carpenter from the Bronx, was working his first day at the site in the Long Island City neighborhood. He had turned to speak to a friend when he heard a popping sound and turned back around.
At that moment, "I saw the cable whipping toward the deck. ... You could just hear it buckling," White said.
The impact shook the scaffolding he was on.
The crane cut down the framework of the building "like a hot knife in butter," White said, because there was no concrete on it yet.
Roberson said the crane, which he estimated to be about 200 feet high, had been up since the weekend — and went down really fast.
City officials went up in a cherry picker while investigating the accident.
Tony Sclafani, a spokesman for the city's Department of Building, said their engineers were investigating the cause of the collapse.
"This is a mobile crane, whose boom collapsed onto the building under construction," Sclafani said.
He said the crash happened at the site of a project for a 25-story apartment building under contract by TF Cornerstone, a residential and commercial real estate developer and property management company. The company said it was working with authorities to help determine what caused the crash.
It said the crane had been leased by a subcontractor, from New York Crane and Equipment Corp.
Construction cranes have been a source of safety worries in the city since two giant rigs collapsed within two months of each other in Manhattan in 2008, killing a total of nine people.
New York Crane's equipment was involved in one of those collapses. Owner James Lomma was tried and acquitted on manslaughter charges.
A call to their offices seeking comment Wednesday wasn't answered.
Those accidents spurred the resignation of the city's buildings commissioner and fueled new safety measures, including hiring more inspectors and expanding training requirements and inspection checklists.
Another crane fell and killed a worker in April at a construction site for a new subway line. That rig was exempt from most city construction safety rules because it was working for a state-overseen agency that runs the subway system.
During Superstorm Sandy in late October, a construction crane atop a $1.5 billion luxury high-rise in midtown Manhattan collapsed in high winds and danged precariously for several days until it could be tethered.
The latest crane collapse wasn't the only notable accident in New York City on Wednesday. A high-speed ferry loaded with hundreds of commuters from New Jersey crashed into a dock in lower Manhattan during morning rush hour, seriously injuring 11 people. The cause of that crash is also under investigation.