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L.I. Couple Grateful To Be Alive After SUV Crushed In Midtown Crane Accident

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- A Long Island couple is counting their blessings after their car was crushed by falling debris in Sunday's crane accident that sent a massive air conditioning unit falling hundreds of feet to the ground, injuring 10 people in Midtown.

Priscilla Welch of Elmont was behind the wheel and her husband was in the passenger seat when pieces of debris began raining down on them on Madison Avenue between 38th and 39th streets around 10:45 a.m. Sunday.

"I automatically thought we're in Manhattan, skyscrapers, I thought about World Trade Center," Welch said.

Long Island Couple Grateful To Be Alive After Car Crushed In Midtown Crane Accident

Officers responded to the scene and found that a crane's payload heading to the top of a commercial building had broken free. The nearly 30,000-pound air conditioning unit fell about 28 stories to the street below, shearing the side of the building along the way. The building is wider at the base and narrows at the higher floors.

Welch and her husband, Gregory, had dropped off their daughter about a block away just moments before the accident, which demolished the backseat of their Mazda SUV where their daughter had been sitting.

PHOTOS: Crane Accident In Midtown

"We had just dropped her off," Gregory Welch said. "Not even a minute after we dropped her off, this happened."

"What would have happened if your daughter was still back there?" CBS2's Scott Rapoport asked him.

"I don't even want to think about that, but God had it in the plan to shield over us," Gregory Welch said. "It's crazy, I'm just glad to be alive to talk about it."

Investigation Underway Into Midtown Crane Accident

In all, 10 people were injured, none of them seriously.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, speaking to reporters on Madison Avenue a block from the accident Sunday, called it "obviously, a very serious incident.''

"Thank God, this incident occurred at an hour of the day on a weekend when there were not too many people around,'' the mayor said.

Natalie Martinez, who works in the building, said if the accident took place on a busy weekday morning, instead of a quiet Sunday, the results could have been calamitous.

Gregory Welch
Gregory Welch survived after debris from a crane collapse struck his car. (credit: CBS2)

"That's really scary," Martinez said. "That would've been horrible. I mean the amount of people that are crossing over here during rush hour. That would have been really really bad."

On Monday, a gaping hole remained at the top of the tower at 261 Madison Ave., while below on the street, crews were at work repairing a broken pipe caused from the impact of Sunday's accident, Rapoport reported. Traffic on Madison Avenue remained closed at noon from 34th to 41st streets.

Buildings Department Commissioner Rick Chandler said it was typical for work to be done on weekends when equipment, such as a crane, is being used. He said all the needed permits for the work involving the crane were "in place,'' and there had been no official complaints about the crane.

"We think this device, in this preliminary stage, is in good state and we'll follow up with that,'' Chandler said.

Just last month, a truck operator was killed  while unloading a flatbed on East 44th Street in Midtown.

During Superstorm Sandy, a crane collapsed at a luxury highrise under construction, leaving it dangling 75-stories up.

And in 2008, two workers were killed when a 30-ton crane on East 91st Street separated from the mast and fell 200 feet to the ground.

City Comptroller Scott Stringer is now calling for safety reforms to prevent other crane accidents.

"We do have a construction crisis on our hands, we do have safety issues that have been going on way too long in this town," Stringer said.

As CBS2's Hazel Sanchez reported, Stringer laid part of the blame on the DOB. The Comptroller said the department spent millions on a study to improve the safety at construction sites, and out of 65 safety recommendations they've only implemented 8.

"Now if you don't want to implement it, tell New Yorkers why. And if you haven't gotten around to it, then maybe this accident shows that it's time to start moving to protect this city," he said.

The DOB said it is investigating the crane rigging company involved in the accident, but so far ha snot issued any summonses.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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