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© Jeff Bachner/New York Daily News
A load of steel fell at the WTC construction site Thursday morning after a crane cable snapped.
Workers at the World Trade Center got a scare Thursday when a crane cable snapped - and thousands of pounds of steel fell 40 stories down on a flatbed truck.

The metal beams demolished the vehicle and just missed crushing the crane operator, who was rattled by his near-death experience but otherwise unhurt.

"It's a miracle" nobody was killed, said steamfitter Mark Sherank, 45, who was in the middle of a safety meeting in nearby Building 4 when the steel fell.

"I looked outside I saw the truck t's a pancake now," he said. "A noise like that, you know something's wrong."

Another steamfitter, 43-year-old Erid Redd, said "the whole building shook."

The impact sent up a cloud of dust and "the scene was chaos," added an ironworker in Building 4.

"Everybody was running to see if they could help," said the worker, who declined to give his name. "Suddenly there was a lot of noise and everybody ran for cover."

The mighty crash also startled occupants of the nearby buildings - many of whom harbor horrific memories of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

"We came out because someone heard a boom," said one woman, nervously smoking outside the Brooks Brothers store on Church St. "It brought back bad memories."

The accident happened just before 10 a.m. near Church and Cortlandt Sts., toward the southeast corner of the 16-acre site, police and officials said.

"The cable of a crane broke, causing the steel it was lifting to fall approximately 40 stories back onto the flatbed truck that had transported the steel into the World Trade Center site," said John Gallagher, spokesman for Tishman, the general contractor.

Gallagher did not say how heavy a load the crane was lifting, but workers estimated the steel weighed between 30,000 and 40,000 pounds.

After the accident, the work site was shut down as investigators from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the city Department of Buildings launched a probe.

Sherank said cranes at the site "are inspected every day."

"They go 110% because it's such a highprofile job," he said. "These are unforeseen accidents that happen."

City buildings inspectors, however, had been to the site several times in recent years to check out complaints of crane problems, records show.

In April 2009, city inspectors found tower crane was not being erected according to plan and work was halted until the situation was corrected.

The contractor, DCM Erectors, was hit with a citation but not fined.

Then in October 2010, a caller reported a crane cable wire was rubbing against a bolt on the crane's boom. A new cable was reinstalled and no citations was issued.

Last March, a passer-by reported that a "large amount of concrete" fell from Four World Trade Center onto the sidewalk on Liberty St "and just missed hitting" the caller and his wife, records show.