NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Two window washers, who became trapped on a scaffold near the 68th floor of One World Trade Center, were rescued and brought to safety Wednesday afternoon.
As CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported, the façade maintenance platform on which the window washers were working, called a “vehicle,” was raised to the roof of One World Trade Center Wednesday night as the investigation into the incident began.
The incident began at around 12:45 p.m. on the south side of the building — about 820 feet off the ground at the 68th floor. Initial reports suggested the washers were done cleaning the windows and were about to ascend to the top of the tower when the cable that pulls the scaffold up became loose.
Officials said during a news conference that a slack had developed on the left side of the scaffolding, causing it to tilt dangerously, 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reported.
Scaffold operating contractor Upgrade Services said the slack appeared to be caused by an equipment failure in the traction hoist brake mechanism, which supports one side of the rig.
PHOTOS: Window Washers Rescued At 1 WTC
Images from the scene showed the scaffolding dangling at a precarious angle as emergency responders from the Police and Fire departments, along with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, tried to rescue the workers and secure the dangling scaffold platform.
The expert first responders called to the scene immediately knew they had two options, CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported.
“We were either going to go with scaffolding and lower it down to the guys, and they would transfer over to another scaffolding safely. And the other option we were going with, which we were involved with, was there’s three panes of glass and basically cutting the glass away,” said Lt. Billy Ryan with FDNY Rescue One.
Additional safety lines were lowered to the workers along with a radio so they could communicate with the rescue team.
“They reported to us they were OK and they felt secure, and we just kind of told them it would take a few minutes for us to gain access to them,” said Chief Joe Jardin, with FDNY Rescue One.
Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said the men were never in danger of free falling.
“At no time were the people in the scaffold unsecured. They were secured both by their own belts and the ropes by the roof,” Nigro said.
A rescue basket with one officer each from the NYPD and the Port Authority was deployed in an effort to get to the trapped workers, but the FDNY managed to cut through a window and pull them to safety around 2:15 p.m.
Officials said rescuers cut through three layers of glass, two of which were breached using diamond saws.
“The workers were safely brought in and were transported to the hospital with only mild hypothermia, and that was the extent of the injuries,” Nigro told reporters, including WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman.
In a CBS2 exclusive video one of the men can be seen being brought out on a stretcher to a waiting ambulance.
“The biggest challenge is to keep calm, and these guys – I believe they did a good job,” said Yuri Karpinskyy of Big Apple Cleaning.
CBS2 Exclusive Video: Worker Brought Out On Stretcher To Waiting Ambulance
The workers were taken to Bellevue Hospital Center, where they were treated and released, hospital officials said.
Firefighters said the men — identified as Juan Lizama and Juan Lopez — seemed relieved, but were relatively quiet when they stepped through the open window to safety, CBS2 reported.
Lopez, 43, of the Bronx has five years’ experience on the job, according to Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union. Lizama, 41, of New Jersey, has 14 years’ experience.
Lopez’s girlfriend told CBS2’s Jessica Schneider she did not even know he was in trouble until half an hour before he was pulled to safety.
“I seen them pull him in and I freaked, and my mother-in-law called me before that,” said Jennifer Nieves. “I was crying. I was freaking out. We just had two babies – twins – so yeah, it was a little crazy.”
And in West New York, New Jersey, Lizama’s son was too shaken to talk about the rescue he watched on TV.
“He’s in post-traumatic right now. For him, he’s facing a big event. It’s not easy almost seeing his father die, and here he is,” West New York Mayor Felix Roque told CBS2’s Weijia Jiang. “God is great.”
The fire commissioner said the FDNY, NYPD and Port Authority had just held a similar training drill about 10 days ago, 1010 WINS’ Carol D’Auria reported.
“They had a joint exercise in which they trained for such activities and we do that constantly, so they were more than ready to operate here,” Nigro said.
The area immediately surrounding the building was cordoned off. As a precaution, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum was temporarily closed.
“It just brings back 9/11 really, with the emergency vehicles that were surrounding the building and the police presence and everybody standing and looking up,” New Yorker Judy Berg told WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb.
“It’s frightening,” added Kenneth Ernst, of Long Island City. “But at least they were able to rescue them. That’s the good part, so everything’s OK.”
Many on the ground had their eyes trained to the sky during the ordeal.
Jose Vasquez works in the area and told CBS2’s Alice Gainer the work day came to a standstill as everyone watched.
“Scary moments, yes; very scary,” he said.
Vasquez, like so many others, snapped pictures and took videos to post on social media.
“It was controlled chaos I would call it, sort of,” said one onlooker.
Tourists stopped to watch an unexpected sight on their trip.
“It’s pretty unreal really, I don’t know what to say, poor guys,” said one tourist.
At 1,776-feet tall, One World Trade Center is America’s tallest building. The 104-story, $3.9 billion skyscraper opened for business last week, with more than 170 Conde Nast employees moving into five of the company’s 25 floors. By early next year, the magazine publishing giant plans to have about 3,000 additional workers move in.
The building stands at the northwest corner of the site where the twin towers were destroyed in the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
Rescue One, the team tasked with saving the workers, lost 11 members at the World Trade Center on 9/11, but Lt. Ryan said he suppressed any memories of that day while supervising this rescue.
“It’s business; you separate yourself from that. The task at hand is what you worry about right now, and then you separate that and worry about that later,” he said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio was kept up to date on the rescue’s progress and lavished praise on the first responders.
“Great care was taken on the ground to create a space to make sure that if, God forbid, the carriage had fallen, that people below would not be harmed,” the mayor said.
Upgrade Services released a statement Wednesday evening lauding the efforts of the NYPD and the FDNY.
“Our dedication to safety and rigorous training paid off today as the men had all of their safety equipment in place and were continuously secured to the rig along with all of their tools and buckets. Our men remained calm and awaited rescue in an extremely tense and precarious situation,” Upgrade Services said.
Port Authority executive director Pat Foye also issued a statement giving thanks for the efforts of all those involved. But the Port Authority also said building maintenance units at One World Trade Center will be shut down pending an investigation of the incident.
“We’re going to do a full after action report together with the Fire Department, both police departments and the appropriate regulators.
The company that supplied the scaffold is the Tractel Group, and a major focus of the investigation will be why the west side safety lines went slack, causing the rig to tilt, Aiello reported.
In June 2013, Tractel was involved in a scaffold collapse at the Hearst Tower, in which two workers were rescued 45 stories above Midtown. And in December 2007, one man died and another was seriously injured when their scaffold fell 47 stories on East 66th Street.
Tractel was fined $21,000 for improper rope installation.
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