Three Workers Die When 'Big Blue' Falls at Stadium

The world's largest crane topples and investigors work to determine the cause.

Three ironworkers died July 14 when one of the world's largest cranes crashed into a stadium being constructed for the Milwaukee Brewers baseball team.

Investigators are looking into whether the Lampson Transi-Lift 1500 Series crane, known as "Big Blue," toppled into Miller Park because of wind, a crane failure or some other cause. The 2,100-ton crane, at 567 feet tall, was lowering a 400-ton piece of the stadium's roof into place when witnesses reported hearing loud creaks, then the crane tipped or buckled before falling. Lifting capacity of the crane is 1,500 tons.

Two monitoring devices were recovered from the crane that, if operating properly, would have set off an alarm that winds were too high or the load was off-kilter. Reportedly, the devices' batteries were dead. As city police and Milwaukee County sheriff's investigators worked toward finishing their criminal investigation, work continued on separate investigations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the county district attorney's office, said Jim Dollins, assistant area director in the Milwaukee OSHA office.

Jerome Starr, 52, of Milwaukee; Jeffrey Wischer, 40, of Waukesha, Wis.; and William DeGrave, 39, of Kimberly, Wis.; were in a basket hanging from another crane inside the bowl of the stadium when the crane fell and struck the basket. The men, who were wearing safety harnesses and carrying two-way radios, were waiting to begin the process of attaching the roof piece hoisted by Big Blue, which was outside the stadium. Its main operator, Fred Flowers, 64, of Houston, was among five others with minor injuries. Flowers' hips and shoulder were broken after he jumped or fell at least 20 feet from the crane's cab.

The medical examiner's report, in addition to containing causes of the workers' deaths, included comments from Ramona Starr, Jerome Starr's wife, that workers earlier in the day argued about whether it was safe to lift the massive roof piece into place during high winds. The National Weather Service reported wind gusts that day of 26 mph. During 10 previous lifts, wind gusts ranged from 17 to 31 mph.

OSHA investigators already were looking into two accidents at the construction project, which previously had been lauded for its good safety record. A worker fell 60 feet from the roof in May, and several workers were injured when a steel girder being lowered into position collided with an aerial basket in June. The May incident led to a serious citation, with a penalty of $1,500, against Mitsubishi Heavy Industries America Inc. and two serious citations, each with a penalty of $1,500, against Price Erecting Co. Mitsubishi has contested its fine, while Price has settled with OSHA. The June accident still is under investigation.

Big Blue's crew works for Neil F. Lampson Inc. The crane is leased by Mitsubishi, whose director of safety, Wayne A. Noel, is the safety superintendent of the project. "Long after the project is built, no one will remember us," Noel said last fall. "If someone dies, they will remember that forever."

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