Investigators say there are several possible explanations for the crane's apparent tilt, visible in photos taken a month before it collapsed.
The construction crane that collapsed in downtown Bellevue Nov. 16 appeared to be leaning in a photograph taken more than a month before the deadly accident.
Jana Downing, a 32-year-old Seattle woman, said Tuesday that she photographed the crane Oct. 10 from a room in The Westin Bellevue hotel while visiting relatives who were staying there.
Downing said that shortly after the collapse, she provided photographs to the Bellevue office of the state Department of Labor and Industries, which is investigating the accident that killed a Bellevue man and heavily damaged three buildings.
Elaine Fischer, a department spokeswoman, declined Tuesday to discuss the photographs or the investigation.
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But a source familiar with the inquiry confirmed that investigators have studied at least one photograph from Downing and that the photo appears to show the 210-foot tower crane tilting 2 to 3 feet at the top.
“It’s definitely not plumb [vertical], as it should be,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing.
Investigators seek help
The state Department of Labor and Industries is requesting that anyone who took photographs or video of a construction crane in Bellevue before it collapsed Nov. 16 send the images or information about them to email@example.com.
Investigators have not determined why the crane appeared to be leaning, the source said. It might have tilted because of potential problems with the crane’s base, how it was erected, efforts to relieve stress on it during high winds that preceded the collapse, or a combination of events, he said.
The source said that, under national industry standards, tower cranes are allowed to lean 1 inch for every 40 feet in height. At 210 feet, the Bellevue crane would have been allowed to lean no more than 5 ¼ inches, the source said.
Bill Lewis, president of Seattle-based Lease Crutcher Lewis, the general contractor for the office project where the crane toppled, said Tuesday he had not seen the photographs. But he said he was not surprised that a crane would be leaning. When not in use, most tower cranes lean more than 2 or 3 inches because a heavy counterweight attached to the horizontal arm pulls them slightly backward, he said.
Lewis said of the many cranes in downtown Bellevue, it is typical to see a slight lean when they are idle, especially against the backdrop of a high-rise building or some other vertical reference point.
Officials of Northwest Tower Crane Service in Tukwila, the company that erected the crane Sept. 9 for Lease Crutcher Lewis, didn’t return telephone messages.
The crane collapsed at the construction site for Tower 333, a 20-story office building at Northeast Fourth Street and 108th Avenue Northeast. Matt Ammon, a Microsoft attorney, was killed when the crane fell into his apartment unit across the street from the site.
Downing said that while she was at the nearby Westin on Oct. 10, one of her relatives said that the crane “seems to be falling down.”
Downing said she thought at the time that the crane appeared to be leaning but that she and the others discounted the significance.
She said she took the photographs of the crane, along with other scenes, as souvenirs for her relatives.
The photograph is one reason investigators are questioning several crane operators who worked at the site to determine whether they unlocked the crane’s horizontal arm during high winds the week before the collapse.
The practice, known as “weathervaning,” is required during strong winds to allow the arm to swing freely, relieving pressure on the crane, said the source familiar with the investigation.
Lewis said his company takes steps to minimize “undue stress on the crane,” which could include using weathervane mode. But he said he did not know the specific steps taken or required at the Bellevue site, nor who was required to do them: “I’m not familiar enough with the job to know the answer.”
Among the operators who has been questioned is Warren Taylor Yeakey, 34, of Tacoma, who was in the crane’s cab when it collapsed. He suffered minor injuries.
Yeakey’s past convictions for drug-related crimes surfaced after the crane incident. But a drug test administered shortly after the incident proved negative, the source said.
The crane’s base — a custom-made configuration in which the tower was bolted to steel beams — came under scrutiny early in the investigation. Tower cranes are normally connected to bolts buried in a cement foundation.
An outside engineering company hired by Lease Crutcher Lewis approved the design of the special base, which was built in the parking garage of the structure.
Dozens of bolts and three welds in the base failed, although it wasn’t clear if that occurred because of structural or metallurgical problems in the base, or because of the stress of the collapse itself.
Lewis said his company will resume construction on the site, initially using a mobile crane — not a fixed one — to repair the damage and move materials.
He would not give a timeline.
The crane collapse has prompted state legislators and the governor’s office to consider legislation requiring tougher standards for the operation and inspection of tower cranes.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org