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Eyewitness video offers clue about deadly crane collapse

Construction cranes are designed to blow like a weather vane in strong wind. Even if a crane’s brakes are locked, safety mechanisms can release them.

DALLAS — Eyewitness video from Sunday’s deadly tower crane collapse near downtown could offer a clue to federal investigators and raises questions about whether the crane was moving in the wind like it was designed.

“A crane will tell you what happened; you just have to be patient with it and look at it and look at all the components and see where they’re at,” said James Pritchett, president of Crane Experts International, Inc.

Video from one of WFAA’s tower cameras on Sunday shows two cranes downtown appearing to move freely – pointing in the same direction like weather vanes – as the severe thunderstorm pushed in with rain and strong wind.

But eyewitness video, captured by a Twitter user named Sophie Daigle, also shows two cranes, but they appear to be facing opposite directions.

The crane on the left of her screen, which is also seen in WFAA’s tower cam video, is the one spinning freely in the wind.

But the tower crane that failed, on the right, appears as if it is facing a different direction.

Credit: Sophie Daigle

“Who knows at that time, the wind might have turned it at such an angle it was just coincidentally at that angle. But I looked at the one to the left and it was still up, and it was in close proximity to this one. I would be curious to what wind it was being subjected to,” said Pritchett, an expert witness and crane accident investigator based near Mobile, Ala.

Bigge Crane and Rigging, Co., based in San Diego, Calif., operated the failed crane. It collapsed Sunday afternoon into Elan City Lights, a 450-unit apartment complex, at 2627 Live Oak Street on the eastern edge of downtown.

Kiersten Symone Smith, 29, was killed after the crane collapsed into the apartment building.

RELATED: Woman killed after crane collapsed into Dallas apartment during severe storms

Construction cranes are designed to blow like a weather vane in strong wind. Even if the crane’s brakes were locked, manufacturers generally have safety mechanisms installed that can release brakes if wind reaches a certain speed, Pritchett explained.

“They’ll be able to analyze the brakes and see if by chance the brakes were locked. I can’t imagine the brakes being locked, but again I’m not going to say," Pritchett said. "Anything can happen, but generally the brakes would be released.” 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has had investigators on scene since yesterday.

“The agency has six months to complete any investigation,” an OSHA spokesman said Monday afternoon.

Credit: WFAA

OSHA was already paying closer attention to construction crane operators in Texas and surrounding states.

Last October, OSHA issued a “Regional Emphasis Program for Cranes used in Construction” after 10 fatal accidents between January 2015 and December 2017 in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana.

The program was supposed to improve safety by monitoring job sites, adding enforcement, and promoting voluntary compliance among other things.

Bigge has had citations for at least two previous accidents in the last five years, according to an OSHA database.

“There’s a lot to be known on this one, who the owner was, the training, the maintenance, and inspections. All that is going to come into play,” Pritchett added.

Dallas Fire-Rescue said it is currently working with OSHA and Bigge to remove the crane. It's unknown when that might begin but it should take about two days to complete, DFR said.

Storm coverage on WFAA: 

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