Building under demolition partially collapses in New York City; 1 worker dead, another rescued

NEW YORK, N.Y. – The interior of a Manhattan building being demolished to make way for a luxury hotel caved in Friday, killing one construction worker and trapping another beneath the rubble for three hours before he was rescued, officials said.

The debris formed a V-shaped cavity when it collapsed and the worker was trapped at the bottom of the V — the most difficult place to extract someone because it is so unstable, fire officials said. The worker was in serious but stable condition after emergency crews using special tools dug him out. A doctor attended to him while he was in the rubble.

“The building is, of course, a very dangerous place to work,” Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said.

The collapse was reported just before 10:30 a.m. at a site on West 38th Street where workers have been demolishing two adjoining buildings, floor-by-floor, for several months. Of the 19 workers on site, 17 escaped uninjured. The names of the injured and dead weren’t immediately released.

It’s not clear what caused the collapse, which happened in the smaller of the two buildings, a five-story brick town house. The interior of the building was intact, and officials said there was no risk to the public.

Buildings officials said the company had all the necessary permits to demolish the site and had been cited for excessive debris on Aug. 25 but nothing more serious. There was no stop-work order, though the engineer on Thursday had requested a work-stop until the building could be further shored, officials said. It’s not clear if that work was happening Friday.

“We’re committed to a full investigation of all the other facts related to this,” said Rich Chandler, commissioner of the Department of Buildings.

According to buildings department records, the site is owned by Fortuna LLC. A woman who answered the phone at Fortuna Realty Group’s office declined to comment and referred calls to Northeast Service Interiors, a demolition company. Northeast said its owners were at the site and couldn’t immediately respond to a telephone call.

According to Fortuna’s website, it acquired the property in late 2012 and was planning a 27-story, 170-room luxury boutique hotel there.

Robert Bankston, a demolition contractor who formerly worked on the site, said the two neighbouring buildings were sound when the project began.

“It wasn’t like the buildings were falling down,” Bankston said.

He said his company left the project about a month ago amid a financial disagreement with the general contractor.

At least 60 firefighters responded to the collapse. Capt. Dominic Vertucci said it was a dangerous and prolonged rescue because of the fragile way the debris settled.

New York Police Department Sgt. Michael Edwards said the trapped worker was conscious and able to squeeze the hands of rescue crews, but he seemed to be in pain.

“He was co-operative,” Edwards said. “He wasn’t panicking.”

Edwards and other crew members said they were relieved by the rescue.

“It’s a feeling of elation,” he said. “The rest of us want to get out without being stuck in the collapse as well.”


Associated Press writer Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.


This story has been corrected to show the building where the cave-in occurred is five stories, not eight.