AUSTIN, Texas — Diane Stewart is used to the occasional construction noise coming from the work site near her Mueller neighborhood apartment in East Austin. But on Wednesday morning, she heard something that made her pause.
“It sounded like pipes falling. It was a loud crash; it made me turn,” Stewart said.
What Stewart heard was two construction cranes colliding, causing dozens of people beneath the cranes to flee. Medics responded at 9:38 a.m. to the site in the 1600 block of Robert Browning Street, just north of Mueller Lake Park near Dell Children’s Medical Center.
When medics arrived, they tended to 22 people, with 16 being taken to a hospital. EMS Capt. Darren Noak said none of the injuries was considered life-threatening.
People got injured while running from the crane collision, Noak said. He did not know what, if any, debris fell or hit the area near the cranes.
Rescuers did not make immediately clear what the extent of the injuries were or whether all the people injured were construction workers.
Hours later, investigators were still trying to figure out exactly what happened, but Austin Fire Battalion Chief Mark Bridges said the wires of the two cranes got tangled. A piece of one of the cranes broke off during the collision.
One operator was still in one of the cranes when officials spoke to reporters around 11 a.m. But Bridges said the operator was not in danger.
Stewart, the Mueller resident, was walking to Mueller Lake Park with her bird-watching binoculars around 9:30 a.m. when she heard the cranes crash. She was walking along Aldrich Street at the traffic circle outside the lake.
Stewart said she is used to hearing bangs or loud cement trucks at the construction site, but what she heard Wednesday morning sounded like a car crash.
“It was just crazy,” Stewart said. “First responders got here so fast. Kudos to them, man.”
Construction workers at the scene told the American-Statesman that their managers would handle media inquiries. Cadence McShane Construction officials did not immediately return requests for comment.
The two cranes were on a construction site in the western half of the Mueller neighborhood, which contains apartments, an Alamo Drafthouse theater, the Thinkery children’s museum and various restaurants near Mueller Lake Park.
Cadence McShane Construction recently began construction on the Alpha Building, a six-story office building and garage in the mixed-use neighborhood. The building, which will have about 240,000 square feet, is on the first of three development sites that have the capacity for four office buildings with about 800,000 square feet of office space.
“We are in close contact with our subcontractors, local authorities, and our on-site team to better understand what transpired,” Craig Morris, senior vice president for Cadence McShane, said in a statement. “More importantly, we are working with the crane subcontractor and the fire department to ensure the damaged crane is safely dismantled. Since this is an ongoing investigation, we cannot provide additional details at this time.”
Shorenstein Properties is the lead developer for the building, and Catellus is the development manager.
“Catellus is committed to the safety and security of the community, and we understand everyone affected by this accident is being properly cared for,” Brian Dolezal, a spokesman for Catellus and the Mueller redevelopment, said in an email. “The construction site’s contractor is in close contact with the crane operators and city officials to determine the cause of this incident and to ensure the highest safety standards.”
According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a Cadence McShane Construction employee was killed in Austin while moving a concrete slab in August 2017.
The employee was crushed by the concrete slab that fell on the person when the rigging that was being used failed, according to OSHA.
This year in February, a worker at a Cadence McShane construction site in Sherman died, according to The Herald Democrat. Officials said they were investigating the incident after a worker fell at the site of the new Sherman High School campus in North Texas.
In April, the city of Austin cited Cadence McShane Construction after receiving a coronavirus-related complaint about workers not wearing masks and bathrooms not being spaced 6 feet apart at a construction site in the 1900 block of Aldrich Street. That site is next to the area where the cranes collided Wednesday.
In May, Cadence McShane won the National Safety Merit Award from Associated Builders and Contractors, according to the company’s website.
“Safety is our highest priority at Cadence McShane,” said Cadence McShane President Will Hodges in a written statement. “We have a highly skilled team of safety professionals who work to ensure that every project is planned and executed with safety in mind, and we’re proud to have our efforts recognized with such a prestigious award.”
Although only minor injuries were reported in Wednesday’s incident, crane operations can be a deadly task. From 2011 to 2017, the most recent year of data available, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tallied 297 crane-related deaths, an average of 42 a year.
Of those cases, Texas had more fatal crane-related injuries than the next three states combined from 2011 to 2017. Texas had 50 deaths, followed by Florida with 16, New York with 16 and California with 14.
(Statesman real estate and development reporter Shonda Novak contributed to this article.)
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