High drama

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Crane drops five-tonne wall near Kawarau Falls workers.

A giant crane’s “mechanical failure” that dropped a five-tonne concrete wall near workers on Queenstown’s biggest building site has sparked a Government investigation.

The Department of Labour confirms it’s launched an inquiry into the near-miss involving a 150-tonne crane belonging to Daniel Smith Industries Ltd.

The drama happened at Kawarau Falls Station on February 20.

The 1991 IHI crawler crane – the largest on site – was lifting a concrete tilt panel, believed to weigh about five tonne, off a truck, when a spline – a type of locking mechanism controlling the load – “failed”, says an industry source close to the construction site.

“They were just about to lift it over the top of a building that had a whole lot of people in it … before it gave way.

“They were pretty lucky, really.”

It’s understood the concrete panel fell about two metres, damaging the wall itself and the truck it was hoisted from.

The crane – which is hired to the Hawkins Construction site at Kawarau Falls Station for about $10,000 a week – was “condemned” and removed from the site last Friday, says the source, who doesn’t want to be named.

Kawarau Falls Station is a seven-hectare, $2-billion hotel, apartment and residential resort near Kelvin Heights.

It’s being created by Melview Developments and is Queenstown’s biggest building project. The first stage-one hotel opens January 2010. The source says the crane incident is “slightly freakish”.

“It’s very unusual for them to wear in that way. Most accidents that happen with cranes, it’s not because the crane fails, it’s normally because the bloke sitting in the seat makes a balls-up.”

The component failure has prompted independent inspectors Plant and Safety Ltd and safety body Crane Association of New Zealand to issue a warning to operators nationwide.

“The corroded spline failed in shear while lifting within the rated load range,” says Plant and Safety inspector John Phillips in an email obtained by Mountain Scene.

“We strongly advise close inspection of any hoist drive splines of similar design and age to prevent further incidents. It is likely that splines of this type may not have been inspected since assembly.”

Rangiora-based Daniel Smith Industries boss Daniel Smith denied his company’s crane was involved during two separate phone conversations with Mountain Scene.

“I think you must be referring to a company called Smith Crane & Construction [owned by his brother Tim Smith]. You’ve got the wrong information.”

Have you heard of the incident?

“No. We haven’t got no equipment at Kawarau Falls.”

Has your company ever had equipment there?

“No.”

Tim Smith insists his brother’s “telling lies”.

“It definitely wasn’t our crane, it was definitely Daniel’s,” he says.

When contacted a second time, Daniel Smith said: “What you’ve got is false information coming from Smith Crane & Construction using the media to over-exaggerate and make something quite difficult.”

Mountain Scene understands it’s known in the construction industry that the two brothers don’t get on.

A DoL spokesman last night confirmed the company being investigated is Daniel Smith Industries.