A 45-foot, 50-ton construction crane, employed for structural work at the Gregory Commons luxury apartment complex, toppled onto a string of parked cars on Hackensack Plank Road Wednesday morning.
The accident caused traffic nightmares in Weehawken and the area surrounding the Lincoln Tunnel, but no one was injured.
According to Weehawken Deputy Police Chief Jeffrey Fulcher, police received a call from Police Officer James White at approximately 11:23 a.m. Wednesday, informing headquarters that the crane had tipped over and the cab of the crane crashed into the retaining wall of the Gregory Commons complex.
White was working there off-duty at the time of the accident, hired by the construction crew to direct traffic through Hackensack Plank Road.
According to police, the massive crane, owned and operated by Gary Hochschild of Trenton and his company GMH Associates, was off-loading equipment for the work at Gregory Commons. Hochschild, operating in the back of the cab, felt the cab begin to tip.
“He must have felt something wasn’t right because he jumped out and yelled, ‘Run, run!’ ” Fulcher said.
“Officer White didn’t know what was happening, but he was standing right there when the cab began to tip. He would have been caught by the cab flipping up.”
The crane fell down on Hackensack Plank Road, crushing three parked vehicles. The cab flipped over and tipped toward the complex, crashing into a 15-foot high retaining wall and damaging some rails at the top of the wall.
Incredibly, the wall acted as a buffer and propped up the cab after it tipped over.
Weehawken police then worked to secure the area. Hackensack Plank Road was closed to vehicular traffic for the next 10 hours until the cab could be put upright and then removed.
Weehawken Public Safety Director Jeff Welz said that the way the cab and crane toppled was very fortunate.
Cited for violations “The way it ended up settling was the best way possible, but it could have easily gone the other way and fallen down the hillside into the homes below,” Welz said. “The crane could have toppled power lines or fell toward the [Gregory Commons] building. It could have been far worse than what it was.”
The Occupational Safety & Hazardous Agency (OSHA) was called to the scene to investigate. OSHA officials could not officially reveal the findings of their report, but GMH Associates was cited for safety violations as a result of the accident.
“As far as we’re concerned, it’s an accident,” Fulcher said. “But OSHA is still investigating it.” “It looks like either an operator error or a mechanical failure,” Welz said. “But it’s definitely something that should not have happened.”
By late Wednesday evening, the toppled crane and the cab were removed. GMH Associates had to call out for a major hydraulic lift to remove the heavy crane because conventional towing equipment couldn’t handle it. The destroyed vehicles were also towed away.
Welz said that having White on the scene to control the traffic averted a possible tragedy.
“This is a perfect reason why we require a police presence at every construction site,” Welz said.
Ironically, the last major accident in the township occurred approximately 50 feet away. In October 2004, there was an explosion in a car that had propane tanks in it, killing the occupant of the vehicle and causing damage to surrounding homes. That explosion took place directly across Hackensack Plank Road.