Officials: John Massas, 35, Was Likely Wearing 'Parachute Harness'

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Officials say what started as an intense search for a construction worker who fell from the Throgs Neck Bridge Friday morning became a recovery mission by late afternoon.

The subcontractor was working mid-span on a platform beneath the roadway of the bridge around 8 a.m. when he slipped and fell to the water below, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said.

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The Coast Guard spent hours searching the waters without success. CBS 2’s Rachel Stockman later spoke to distraught family members.

John Massas, 35, was a subcontractor with Nuco painting out of Islandia. His three young children had just been dropped off at school when he plunged more than 100 feet.

A massive search effort followed — with police choppers up above and Coast Guard boats with divers on standby scouring the water, causing traffic to back up on the bridge for hours. Officials said Massas was working underneath the bridge when he slipped.

SEE: Photos Of The Search From Chopper 880

1010 WINS’ Carol D’Auria reports

Those who knew him well said Massas loved spending time with his family

“He was very brave. He was not a person that gets scared,” mother-in-law Carmen Gonzalez said.

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Shortly after his fall rescue crews recovered his hard hat

“The contractor may have been preparing to paint the bridge. We have information that he was adjusting the safety harness or changing a safety harness when he fell,” NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly said.

Bridge painter Spiros Feggaros worked with Massas on a different project.

“Actually, my friends called me because I do exactly the same job. They called me because they wanted to know it wasn’t me in the water,” Feggaros said.

He showed Stockman what he called a “parachute harness.” It was very similar to the one Massas would have been using Friday morning. Massas’ mother-in-law told Stockman that he was a father of two daughters, 13 and 7, and a 5-year-old son who he called “John John.” Massas met his wife, Vanessa, when they were just 12. They had been sweethearts ever since.

“He liked to be around his family all the time,” Gonzalez said.

Painter Spiros Feggaros shows the type a safety harness used by workers on the Throgs Neck Bridge - Mar 30, 2012 (credit: Peter Haskell / WCBS 880)

Painter Spiros Feggaros shows the type a safety harness used by workers on the Throgs Neck Bridge - Mar 30, 2012 (credit: Peter Haskell / WCBS 880)

The accident is under investigation by the MTA Bridges and Tunnels’ Health and Safety Division, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the NYPD and the Office of Emergency Management.

The Throgs Neck Bridge links the Bronx and Queens where the East River meets the Long Island Sound.  The work being done on the bridge is part of a $25 million, two-year structural steel rehabilitation project.

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