A two-man crane crew working around the roof of a Fairfax County church got injured Tuesday when the crane collapsed into the church steeple.
Nearly 70 pre-school youngsters were in and around the church at the time of the late-morning incident, but none was injured.
A fire marshal and a building inspector from the county government have ordered St. Luke's Episcopal Church on Fort Hunt Road closed until the fallen crane can be removed and a certified building inspector has a chance to determine whether structural damage has been done to either the steeple or the roof.
Nowadays, many church steeples contain hidden arrays of cell phone antennas. Three different cell phone companies pump their communications in and out of the antennas in the steeple at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in the Ft. Hunt section of Fairfax County.
A two-man crew from the B&M Tower Company was being hoisted to the steeple to examine it for equipment changes when the truck on which the crane is based apparently tipped over. Jim Perkins was operating the crane from the truck: "I felt the crane move -- how it's not supposed to [move] -- and, when I looked down, it looked like the rear outrigger was compressing."
The rear outrigger is the rear left leg that's supposed to stabilize the truck while the crane is being deployed. Perkins felt the truck tipping over (toward him).
"So, I got the guys [in the aerial bucket] as close to the roof as I could until I had to bail [out]," Perkins said.
As the crane tipped over, the bucket carrying the two other workers swung wildly in the air.
Preschool teacher Meredith Preston watched from the playground, which is on the north side of the church.
"I just happened to be looking up there," explained Preston. "And then all of a sudden I saw the bucket just sort of swing. And the bucket slammed into the steeple ... and then it kind of went out of my sight."
The bucket carrying the workers apparently landed hard on the church's roof, slightly injuring the men, according to witnesses.
Four-year-old Fiona Rosello was also on the playground when the crane came down.
"It sounded loud," explained the preschooler.
There were a total of 69 preschool students inside and outside the church building. All were ultimately evacuated to a parking lot; none were injured. County officials were concerned that the hard knock may have pushed the steeple off kilter.
Wednesday classes at St. Luke's Day School have been canceled. Because of scheduled teacher training days, the preschool had already not planned on holding classes on Thursday or Friday.