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Crane Topples During Cathedral Repair

Thursday, September 8, 2011

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Rains and high winds toppled a 550-foot-tall crane this week at the Washington National Cathedral, further damaging the site and compounding the multimillion-dollar job of repairing the earthquake-damaged icon.

The all-terrain crane tipped over backward at 10:55 a.m. Wednesday (Sept. 7), just after placing a load of steelwork on the structure’s roof. The operator had been lowering the boom when the crane overturned, fire department Battalion Chief John Donnelly said.

 Overturned crane

 Photos: Washington National Cathedral

The crane missed the Cathedral and two schools at the site, but clipped two other buildings on the grounds.

The area was experiencing heavy rain and thunderstorms at the time, with winds gusting up to 50 mph. But, said Donnelly, “We don’t know why it collapsed.”

Vehicles Crushed, Buildings Damaged

The crane crashed into an area between the roadway and the cathedral, just missing a pathway used by students at National Cathedral School and St. Albans School, where the first day of classes was underway.

Pieces of the crane scattered in the crash, and the jib and boom crushed several vehicles. Although the crane missed the Cathedral, it did clip two church buildings on the grounds. About 20 people inside those buildings escaped uninjured.

 Four vehicles were crushed
Four vehicles at the site were crushed, but no serious injuries were reported.

The crane operator was able to walk away from the equipment, reports said, and was being evaluated for what were described as non-life-threatening injuries. No other injuries were reported.

Emergency services, engineers and contractors were on the scene.

OSHA Investigating

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the collapse. The crane is owned by Crane Service Co., of Upper Marlboro, MD., a site that covers the crane industry, described the crane as a 500-ton Liebherr, rigged with almost full luffing jib and Y-Guy boom support system.

 Overturned crane
The crane operator was treated for injuries. OSHA is investigating crane owner Crane Service Company of Maryland.

Crane Service, a family-owned company founded in 1926, has two closed cases with OSHA. In 2004, the company paid $875 (halved from $1750) for one serious violation involving a crushed-by/struck-by hazard. In 2006, it paid a $2,500 fine for one other-than-serious (reduced from serious) hazard.

Company officials did not respond to a request Thursday for comment.

Sept. 11 Event

Wednesday’s accident forced cathedral officials to scramble to relocate services and concerts that had been planned this weekend in honor of the Sept. 11th anniversary. The events, which included an appearance by President Obama, were farmed out Thursday (Sept. 8) to new locations around Washington.

 Debris at National Cathedral
The crane was being used to clear debris caused by the East Coast quake of Aug. 23.

The cathedral sustained significant damage—but not structural damage—in the East Coast quake of Aug. 23. The crane had been on site all week to remove huge pieces of debris from the grounds. Crews had also been installing industrial-strength netting throughout the church’s interior, to catch any falling masonry.

The full extent of the cathedral’s quake damage will require months of painstaking inspection of hundreds of limestone angels, statues and spires, but the visible repairs alone have already been estimated in the millions of dollars. The privately owned structure was not insured for earthquake damage.

 Damaged spire, Washington National Cathedral
A full assessment of the damage will require inspecting every one of the Cathedral’s hundreds of statues and spires.

Now, the nonprofit organization that operates the cathedral will be adding to that repair bill.

Construction on the Cathedral—the sixth-largest in the world and the second-largest in the United States—began in 1907 and was completed only in 1990.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Construction; Cranes; Health and safety; Monuments; OSHA; Steel

Comment from William Feliciano, (9/9/2011, 8:38 AM)

Hmm. Heavy rains, thunderstorms, and 50 mph wind gusts. Makes me wonder why were they operating the crane at all under those conditions.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (9/12/2011, 8:34 AM)

Sounds like bad judgement to be working in those conditions, like the Notre Dame incident.

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