A fast-moving storm caught six construction workers on scaffolding 19 floors above Light Street yesterday, buffeting and slamming them against the walls of the new IBM building until they were able to climb to safety through a broken window.
The six men, members of Ironworkers Local 16, had been caulking the front of the building at the 28th floor when they realized the sky was darkening and wind rising.
They headed for ground, but by the time their two motorized scaffolds had descended nine floors, the wind was tossing them around like "toothpicks."
"It came out of nowhere," said Jack E. Ripley Jr. "The wind practically wrapped us around the building."
For about seven minutes, wind and rain battered the men as they held on and screamed for help.
They said they groped for crevasses on the face of the building or lay flat to keep from slipping off the scaffolding. "I was using my hands as ice tongs," said David P. Twigg, another worker.
One of the scaffolds was blown 30 feet outward from the building. It twisted until it was sticking straight out onto Light Street from the west side of the building.
The city Fire Department dispatched rescue equipment while other construction workers watched the incident from the ground, unable to help.
Finally, the men were able to scramble to safety when a worker inside on the 19th floor used a hammer to break a 5-by-8-foot window.
"To me it was life and death," said Edward V. Finazzo. "If the cablessnapped, we would have been beaten against the building."
Cables are attached to the scaffolding as safety measures. In addition, each worker is also secured with a safety rope.
"It was touch-and-go, but you have to hang in there," Mr. Ripley said. "You can't lose control up there."
With Mr. Ripley, Mr. Twigg and Mr. Finazzo were John S. Boerum, Ray Zimmerman and Ricky Kraft, all employees of United Caulking. All came away uninjured.
Mr. Ripley said he had a similar experience about four years ago while working at another building just a couple blocks away.
But he and the others shrugged off yesterday's incident. "We'll be back tomorrow at 7 o'clock sharp," he said. "We'll go back out the same window we came in."