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Dangling workers rescued from World Trade Center

November 13, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) — Two window washers trapped on a dangling scaffold nearly 70 stories up the new 1 World Trade Center tower were rescued Wednesday by firefighters who sawed through a window to reach them.

The dramatic rescue, coming a little more than a week after the nation’s tallest building officially opened, was followed by throngs of New Yorkers on the ground and many more around the world watching on live TV.

The window washers, Juan Lizama and Juan Lopez, were working on the Manhattan building’s south side early in the afternoon when one of the platform’s four cables abruptly developed slack, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. The open-topped platform tilted sharply and swayed slightly in the wind between the 68th and 69th floors, he said.

About 100 firefighters rushed to the skyscraper, some of them lowering ropes from the roof so the workers could secure themselves and a two-way radio for them to communicate, Nigro said. The workers also were harnessed to the platform.

Firefighters first used diamond cutters to saw through part of a two-layered glass window on the 68th floor. They shattered the thick glass in place, then carefully pulled the broken pieces into the building.

Firefighters also began inching another scaffold down the building as a backup rescue plan, but they were able to bring the workers to safety through the window hole.

Mayor Bill de Blasio praised rescuers for “great coordination.”

Firefighters generally seek to cut out windows to make such rescues, but Nigro noted the trade center’s thick glass: a double-paned inner layer and an outer pane.

Lizama and Lopez were checked out at a hospital and released.Their union, Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ, said it makes sure workers follow rigorous safety protocols.

The building’s owner, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said it was suspending window cleaning there while investigating what happened. The window washing company and the rig’s supplier, which built and repaired scaffolds involved in two other high-profile accidents in recent years, didn’t immediately return calls seeking comment.

Officials haven’t determined what caused the cable problem. The cables are controlled from the scaffold vehicle, the fire commissioner said.

It was unclear whether anything about the design of the 1,776-foot (541-meter), 104-story skyscraper complicates working the window washing scaffolds, which went into service in June.

The window washers were working for Upgrade Services Window Cleaning, which services other prominent New York skyscrapers, including 4 World Trade Center.

The scaffold supplier, the Tractel Group, was fined $21,000 in 2008 after a scaffold it had repaired the year before gave way with two window washers aboard while they worked on the 47th floor of a Manhattan building; one worker died. Tractel also built a scaffold that snapped 500 feet (150 meters) above the ground last June in Manhattan, leaving two workers dangling; they were rescued after firefighters cut through glass.

The silvery skyscraper, which rose from the ashes of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attack, reopened last week to 175 employees of magazine publisher Conde Nast. About 3,000 more Conde Nast employees are expected to move in by early next year, eventually occupying 25 floors of the $3.9 billion tower.

Steps away from the new tower are two memorial fountains built on the footprints of the decimated twin towers, a reminder of the more than 2,700 people who died in the Sept. 11 attack.

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Associated Press writers Kiley Armstrong, Deepti Hajela and Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.

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