Crane collapse at Texas refinery kills 4, hurts 6

The largest mobile crane in the nation collapsed at a Houston oil refinery Friday, killing four workers and injuring six others in the latest of several fatal accidents that have raised concerns about the safety of construction cranes.

The crane, capable of lifting 800,000 pounds, fell over at a LyondellBasell refinery in southeast Houston about 2 p.m., said Jim Roecker, the company's vice president for refining.

The massive, deep red crane lay on top of a smaller, bright yellow crane on the grounds of the refinery. Ambulances and fire trucks were lined up outside.

Officials weren't certain whether those killed and injured were on the crane or under it, Roecker said.

Three of the injured were treated and released at the scene, said Houston Fire Department Assistant Chief Omero Longoria. Two severely injured workers were taken by helicopter to Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center hospital, and the other injured worker was taken to a hospital by ambulance.

The crane belonged to Deep South Crane & Rigging. Roecker described it as the nation's largest mobile crane. Its exact dimensions were not immediately available.

The crane had not been scheduled to do any work Friday, but Roecker said its engine was idling after it hit the ground.

“This is a traumatic experience for all of us. We have to focus on the safety and health of our employees,” Roecker said.

Deep South spokeswoman Margaret Landry issued a statement from the company's headquarters in Baton Rouge, La., saying it was investigating “to determine the root cause, correct it and ensure that this type of tragedy does not occur again.”

The refinery has about 3,000 LyondellBasell workers and 1,500 contract workers, Roecker said. He said all personnel at the plant were accounted for, and the plant was operating as usual.

The crane was delivered in pieces and assembled on site about a month ago. It was brought in to remove large drums from inside a coking unit whose roof had been cut off to allow the crane access, Roecker said.

The Houston refinery is one of the world's largest for processing high-sulfur crude oil. The facility itself covers about 700 acres along the Houston Ship Channel at the city limits of Houston and Pasadena.

AP writers Ana Ley, John Porretto and Paul J. Weber and researcher Judith Auesebel contributed.