NEW YORK — A 7,500-pound spool of electrical cable being lowered into a Manhattan subway station Thursday suddenly broke loose and barreled down the stairs of the station, gravely injuring two women, officials said.
The accident happened at about 11:45 a.m. at the 14th Street and Eighth Avenue station. Workers for Sheldon Electric, a subcontractor for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, had left half of the stairway open, allowing passengers to use it as workers lowered the spool on the other side, said Bob Slovak, a transit spokesman.
The one-inch thick nylon rope that held the spool snapped, he said, and the spool, which had reached only the third step, went rolling down the stairs with enough force to destroy the metal bannisters, bouncing off a wall and then hitting the women, Slovak said.
The women, identified by the police as Andresa Kippins, 73, and Valca Valentine, 41, were badly injured, with multiple broken bones, said police and hospital officials.
Kippins' son David said she and Valentine, who did not know each other, had stopped at the foot of the stairs when they saw the spool, about 5 feet in diameter, being lowered.
"The guy waved to them and said it was OK to pass," David Kippins said. "And the next thing they knew, it broke and this thing came at them."
Kippins suffered several broken bones, including the fibula and the tibia of one leg, three ribs, her collarbone and her pelvis, her son said.
Valentine broke her left leg and clavicle, according to a spokeswoman for St. Vincents Hospital.
David Kippins said he was astonished at the lack of safety precautions. "How could they just have men holding a rope? Why didn't they have a crane lowering something like that?"
Sheldon Electric had not notified the transit authority of its plan to lower the spool, Slovak said. "If they had, we would have had them close off this staircase completely," he said.
Sheldon Electric was working for CAB Associates, the main contractor for the $15 million renovation of the subway station, which is served by the A, C, E and L trains. The renovation began in 1994, but Sheldon has been working for the transit system for at least a decade, a city official said. Sheldon is owned by a company called Railworks.
The company has faced questions about safety issues before, the official said.
"They have had other safety issues in which they at least had to be talked to about the problems," the official said. "I don't know if there were any penalties involved."
Michael Cahn, the chief executive of Sheldon, said he did not know whether the company had notified the MTA that it was going to lower the spool manually. He did not provide more details about the incident.
"The nature of it is such that my attorney would probably tell me not to say anything about this, and that's easy because I really do not know what happened," Cahn said Thursday night.
Kippins was to have surgery Thursday night, her son said.
A retired first-grade teacher, she had been on her way to a class with other retired teachers in which she was learning to play the recorder, a flutelike instrument, her son said.
"She's a very active lady," said Dorothy Kippins, the wife of Mr. Kippins. The family of the other victim could not be reached. She was reported in stable condition by a hospital spokeswoman Thursday night.