RALEIGH -- Three construction workers were killed Monday in a scaffolding collapse at construction site in the 500 block of Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh.
It happened around 11 a.m. when the construction platform fell from high up on the Charter Square building.
One more worker was hurt. He was taken to WakeMed where he was listed in serious condition.
Pictures from Chopper 11 HD showed broken pieces of scaffolding on the ground and a piece of the structure where the scaffolding had been anchored to the side of the building remained sticking out horizontally.
An eyewitness told ABC11 that he heard a cracking and popping sound and saw the scaffolding give way and crash to the ground.
"You saw it buckle and then collapse," said Dean MacAurther.
"I've been in construction 30 years. It's about the worst I've ever seen," said construction worker Ricky Lee.
"One guy, half his body was trapped inside the scaffolding, I just knew he was gone. And right then, me personally, I just prayed," said construction worker Leroy Kelley.
A 911 caller told an operator that men were working on the scaffold when it fell about 11 a.m.
"We just had a mast climber fall off. There were men on it," the caller said, estimating the men fell 200 feet.
The operator asked if the victims were awake, to which the caller responded: "No, they're dead."
A website for Charter Square says it is an 11-story building offering office space at Lenoir and Fayetteville streets adjacent to Duke Energy Performing Arts Center, Raleigh Convention Center and the Raleigh Marriott City Center. The $54 million building is set to open in May.
Choate, the contractor on the project, said the scaffolding was a "mast climber" design, which is a platform that goes up the side of a building on a vertical column. It was in the process of being lowered when it came down.
"We are deeply saddened by the loss of life and injuries suffered during this incident. Our first and primary concern is for these personnel and their families. We request your thoughts and prayers at this time," read the statement.
The company said a full investigation into how it happened is underway. State and federal construction accident investigators were seen at the accident site.
The City of Raleigh said in a news release that it does not inspect scaffolding systems at construction sites. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of North Carolina, the N.C. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Division has up to six months from the date of an accident to issue citations if any violations of the act are found.
"It's entirely too early to say what happened," said Jeff Hammerstein with Wake County Emergency Medical Services.
Police have identified the victims as 41-year-old Jose Erasmo Hernandez, of Durham; 33-year-old Jose Luis Lopez-Ramirez, of Clinton; and 33-year-old Anderson Almeida, of Durham.
Elmer Guevara, 53, was injured in the accident and taken to WakeMed. A relative who spoke with ABC11 Tuesday said he was conscious but needs more surgeries. The relative said he was on the scaffolding when it fell, but was probably saved because he landed on the roof of a plastic portable toilet.
"We offer our condolences to the victims and families affected by the construction accident today. Our thoughts and prayers are with them during this difficult time, Construction has temporarily been suspended and we are cooperating with the City of Raleigh Fire Marshal and OSHA Investigators to determine the cause of the scaffolding collapse," read a statement from Dominion Realty Partners, who owns Charter Square.
Safety record investigated
The ABC11 I-Team is digging in to the companies involved. Choate Construction was the main company in charge of the site.
Choate's Chief Operating Officer Mike Hampton says obviously something went terribly wrong and they're trying to understand what exactly that is. He told ABC11 that their sub-contractor, Associated Scaffolding, was in the process of dismantling the mast climbers that workers use to transport crews and materials to different positions on the building under construction.
We dug into Associated Scaffolding's safety record. According to OSHA, it had six violations in 2007-2008, two of which were considered serious.
As for this job, Hampton said Associated Scaffolding passed a rigorous financial and safety pre-qualification before getting the job. The company's headquarters are in Durham. A rep told ABC11 that they have no comment.
When it comes to the safety record of the main contractor on the job, Choate Construction, the I-Team only found six OSHA safety violations in the past 10 years.
The North Carolina Department of Labor is the lead agency investigating the accident.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.