Worker fails to get out before old tower falls


POSTED: Sunday, May 17, 2009

Construction workers and firefighters recovered the body of a man buried under tons of steel and concrete rubble when a 120-foot-tall cooling tower collapsed on him at Campbell Industrial Park yesterday, said Fire Capt. Robert Main.


The victim, 54, was an employee of AG Transport Co. of California, specialists in industrial demolition, said the Honolulu Fire Department spokesman.

The California firm was contracted by Hawaiian Cement Co. to demolish an old cement-manufacturing facility that is no longer being used, Main said.

Sans Construction of Hawaii assisted AG Transport in a support role to pull away rubble, he said.

The two men were working on the old tower yesterday morning, Main said. They were “;facilitating the weakening of the structure”; so it could be pulled over with a cable and equipment.

“;Everything went well until about five minutes from the operation to knock down the structure,”; Main said, describing the process as similar to lumberjacks notching a tree to guide the fall in a certain direction.

The tower was supposed to collapse to the north but it fell to the west, he said.

He said the two men inside began running out after hearing a “;pop or creak,”; indicating the structure was falling, at about 8:10 a.m.

One escaped but the other turned back into the tower, he said. It isn't clear why he did that, Main said.

“;He may have gotten turned around or hooked on something. He didn't get outside all the way, whatever happened. He was about in the middle of the structure.”;

Main said the Honolulu Police Department will investigate the circumstances of the death.

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About 70 people were at the scene working to locate the man, including about a dozen workers each from AG Transport and Sans Construction, plus fire and rescue personnel.

Red Cross volunteers provided meals and grief counselors talked to the workers.

About 45 firemen, a hazardous materials team, two rescue units, a command vehicle, assistant chief in charge of operations and support staff worked throughout the day until the body was recovered at about 3:15 p.m.

A search-and-rescue team with a dog trained to look for survivors was also called in. But the dog didn't detect the man in the pile of steel and concrete.

A Fire Department helicopter surveyed the rubble immediately after the tower collapsed, then left for a brush fire, Main said.

Firefighters assisted AG Transport with removal of the estimated 40-foot-high pile of rubble, painstakingly taking pieces from the top down to keep it stable, he said.

The process was similar to extricating a person from wreckage of a car after an accident, he explained.

“;We take the car from the person, not the person from the car,”; he said.

Firemen erected two towers to monitor the rubble pile so they could issue an alert if it was about to topple over, Main said.