Worker falls to death from L.A.'s soon-to-be tallest high-rise

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A construction worker plunged to his death on Thursday from the 53rd floor of an unfinished downtown Los Angeles skyscraper that will rank as the tallest building on the U.S. West Coast when completed next year, according to the city fire department.

It marked the first fatality on the site of the 2-year-old, $1 billion Wilshire Grand project, being developed by Korean Airlines, said Chris McFadden, a spokesman for the building's New York-based general contractor Turner Construction Company.

Details of the fatal fall, which occurred just after noon, were not immediately available, but the man's body struck a vehicle on the street below, fire department spokeswoman Margaret Stewart said.

A woman who was driving the vehicle was uninjured but was taken to an area hospital for evaluation as a precaution, Stewart said. She said circumstances of the incident were under investigation by police.

Los Angeles Times staff photographer Mel Melcon, who was at the site on assignment, told the newspaper he heard a loud thump, then glimpsed the man's body on the ground, lying off the driver's side of a car.

"It sounded like a bag of cement fell off the edge of the building," he was quoted as saying.

Rising 73 stories into the Los Angeles skyline, the hotel and office tower will measure 1,100 feet (335 meters) high, including a spire affixed to the stop of the building in a design that will make it the tallest structure west of the Mississippi.

That distinction currently belongs to the U.S. Bank Tower, located a few blocks away.

The Wilshire Grand is slated for completion early next year. Construction began in earnest in February 2014 with the laying of the foundation in what was then certified by the Guinness World Records as the largest continuous pour of concrete.

Thursday's death came days after the project's "topping out" ceremony to mark the placement of the tallest, final support beam of the tower.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Alistair Bell)