Before Hurricane Sandy even reached the Five Boroughs, the city was thrown into chaos when its prevailing winds knocked over the boom of the crane hanging off the side of the billionaire-beloved One57 condo tower. In our oral history of Hurricane Sandy, Fire Chief Sal Cassano told The Observer that was the moment the storm got serious. “That was pretty much the start of a very, very active and serious night,” Mr. Cassano said. “We had a four-alarm assignment for an incident that wasn’t even a fire.”
Yesterday, The Times had a harrowing account of the moments surrounding the crane snapping. It includes the main city engineer on the scene saying he gave the boom a 20 percent chance of breaking off entirely and falling earthward. His boss, Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri, felt more secure, as he told The Observer during our interview for the oral history that, following some initial panic, he felt confident the boom would hold through the storm and the days ahead.
“We had made an estimate that, at the time, we knew the crane was not going to fall,” Mr. LiMandri said. “We felt very comfortable that the ties that held the mast up were intact, and that was a very good sign, knowing that the mast had not been compromised. We had some estimates on the iron chords that were holding the mast together to the balloon, so we were fairly comfortable that that part was secure.”
Still, the the full force of the storm yet to come, Mr. LiMandri feared his team was not in the clear yet. “We knew we were still headed for the height of the storm, the wind directions had changed several times within a matter of two hours while we were standing there, so we didn’t know if it would withstand the probably 100-plus mile-per-hour wind. In other words, we weren’t sure if it would be intact.”
But the early estimates proved true, and the boom survived the night. So did Mr. LiMandri, who camped out across the street before eventually moving into a Holiday Inn on West 39th Street—one of the few available rooms he could find—to be close to the accident site.
“We knew that once we made it through the evening and looked at it again the next day we felt pretty comfortable that it was not going to fall,” the commissioner said. “But you can have six engineers tell you the same thing, but when you look at it, you’d go, ‘Really?! Are you sure?'”
When it came time to secure the crane, so the street could reopen, Mr. LiMandri said the city took every precaution to ensure a safe and successful operation, quadruple checking every calculation, challenging every assumption.
“The team worked very hard in coming up with a strategy,” Mr. LiMandri explained. “We may have inconvenienced New Yorkers for a couple of days, but we wanted to get it right. We flew in the crane manufacturer, we had experts from Europe come, to basically design how we were going to secure it. We had to make sure that we could actually rotate it by hand, we had to latch it, make sure the building stands the extra weight. We wanted to make sure it was done right.
“We had like, probably 10 engineers in the room, to make sure that we were doing the right thing, not all reporting on the same structure on purpose to make those engineers sort of fight with each other to make sure that they all agreed that the plan would work and that the engineering calculations were correct.”
The whole ordeal gave the buildings commissioner a newfound respect for the power of nature. “Wind is a very powerful and difficult force to calculate,” Mr. LiMandri said. “When other buildings and other obstructions are in the way, it’s not like you are in the middle of an open field, and you’re feeling a gust of around 80 or 100 miles per hour, which would be something anyway. You’re 1,000 feet up, and you’re surrounded by very tall buildings to begin with. It is one of the most challenging things I have ever had to deal with.”
As Mr. LiMandri told us, he barely ate throughout the entire ordeal—it made him lose his appetite.