A two-story framework for the residential building in the New York City borough of Queens had been erected when the red crane toppled and went sprawling across it around 2:30 p.m. behind a big neon "Pepsi Cola" sign, a local landmark.
The three people who were seriously injured were in stable condition.
One person appeared to have a broken bone. Three people had to be extricated from underneath the crane, Deputy Fire Chief Mark Ferran said.
Preston White, 48, a carpenter from the Bronx, was on his first day on the job at the site in the Long Island City neighborhood.
He had turned to speak to a friend when he heard a popping sound and turned back around.
At that moment, "I saw the cable whipping toward the deck. ... You could just hear it buckling," White said.
The impact shook the scaffolding he was on.
The crane cut down the framework of the building "like a hot knife in butter," White said, because there was no plaster on it yet.
A fellow worker, Russell Roberson, 32, of Brooklyn, said the crane had been up about four days - and went down really fast.
City officials went up in a cherry picker while investigating the accident.
Two cranes collapsed within two months of each other in Manhattan in 2008, killing a total of nine people and spurring new safety measures. Another crane fell and killed a worker last April at a construction site for a new subway line, which was exempt from most city construction safety rules.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)