CHELSEA — A construction crane hauling a 30-foot steel beam toppled over Tuesday, narrowly missing an occupied apartment building in what relieved authorities described as a “good outcome from a terrible accident.”
“The alternative could have been disastrous,” said Chelsea Deputy Fire Chief Michael Masucci, who responded to the collapse on Sixth Street. The arm of the crane missed hitting the home by 10 feet.
The crane was being used in the construction of a 56-unit affordable housing development supported by MassHousing and The Neighborhood Developers, a Chelsea nonprofit, according to officials and records.
Around 7:20 a.m., the crane was moving a 30-foot-long steel I-beam when the wheeled vehicle began to tip over with the operator still inside, Masucci said.
“He didn’t jump out. He stayed in it and rode it down,” Masucci said. The driver emerged from the cabin, which was still intact, shaken but not injured.
Masucci said the operator faced danger on every side. There were high-power electrical cables on each side that could have generated a fatal jolt of electricity if the metal boom struck them. A cinderblock elevator shaft was potentially in the path of the boom and the home was not far away.
The crane was being operated by an employee from JWC Steel Co. of Hartford, Conn. The company declined to comment.
According to federal records, JWC was cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in 2018 for “serious violations” when an inspector concluded the company was not providing workers the proper fall protection. The issue has since been resolved and there are no other inspections for the company in the OSHA database.
On Sixth Street Tuesday afternoon, a fire truck and orange cones blocked off the road. Several workers gathered around the large crane, hinged on its side in the gravel lot, almost at a right angle. The base of the crane rested on four large wheels, now off the ground. Its mast stretched across the steel framework of the project, almost reaching the back of the adjacent home.
A larger crane is expected to be brought in Wednesday to dismantle the fallen crane, Masucci said.
Investigators from OSHA were at the construction site along with officials from the city’s building department.
Masucci said the $34 million construction site was shut down until the crane is removed and safety inspections are complete.
Masucci and Chelsea Police Captain David Betz said Sixth Street is frequently used by pedestrians, including students on their way to the city’s middle and high schools.
“Given the timing I would say we were very fortunate with the minimal property damage,” Betz said.
Neighbors described hearing a loud bang that shook the nearby apartment buildings.
”It sounded heavy even without peeking out of my window,” said one woman, who lives three buildings from the lot. “It sounded like the structure, or something, collapsed.”
Alfredo Herrera, 67, who lives with his wife in the building that was nearly hit, said firefighters evacuated the building shortly after the crane fell.
”It was a loud boom,” Herrera said in Spanish. “I got out of bed, and a minute later, firefighters came to evacuate us.”
He was not allowed back in his apartment until late morning, he said.
”I felt nervous. No one expects that,” Herrera said.
About a dozen people live in the building, Herrera said. His pregnant neighbor on the side of the building closest to the construction site was especially startled, he said.
“It was just three meters away from falling onto her room,” Herrera said.
Maritza Larios, 54, was at work when the crane fell but received a call from officials about the collapse.
”I was scared when I heard, but here we are. Thank God it didn’t cause more serious issues,” Larios said in Spanish as she returned home.
Across the street, Miguel Cora, 76, paced up and down the sidewalk as he looked at the fallen crane.
”It’s negligence. It could have fallen the other way and hit us,” he said in Spanish, gesturing towards his apartment building. “I’m glad no one is hurt, but it’s frustrating.”