11 Cautionary Tales About Elevators Architects Should Not Ignore

As cities become more vertical, elevators are going to be a fact of life for many of us, but are they safe?

11 Cautionary Tales About Elevators Architects Should Not Ignore
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The latest buzzword seems to be "vertical cities". Lots of articles have been written about how vertical cities will improve life, allowing for more green space in large cities.

But, getting to your home in a vertical city relies on one thing — an elevator. Every time we get on one, we assume we are going to have a safe and uneventful trip, but that isn't always the case.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, U.S. elevators make 18 billion passenger trips each year, resulting in about 27 deaths annually. Thus, the fatality rate for an elevator trip is 0.00000015% per trip, making elevators a safe mode of transportation.

RELATED: 15 MOST CREATIVE AND UNEXPECTED ELEVATOR DESIGNS IN THE WORLD

In a September 2013 report, the Center for Construction Research and Training revealed that, between 1992 and 2009, there were 89 elevator-related passenger deaths. Here are 11 cautionary tales that designers of the coming vertical cities should take into consideration.

1. August 22, 2019 - New York City

On that early Thursday morning, 30-year-old Sam Waisbren stepped into an elevator in his high-rise called Manhattan Promenade. When the car arrived at the lobby, people exited the car, but when Waisbren exited, the car suddenly dropped, trapping Waisbren between the car and the wall of the elevator shaft between the lobby floor and the basement.

In their story about the accident, the New York Post included surveillance video of the accident and quoted another resident of the building who said that "... the one so-called working elevator that was supposedly fixed Friday started skipping floors again. Someone told me it started skipping floors."

2. May 9, 2017 - Madrid, Spain

On that day, two 17-year-olds, a boy and a girl, entered an elevator in a luxury building in Madrid's Salamanca district. The area is known as one of Madrid's most expensive neighborhoods.

Somewhere between the ninth and sixth floors, the floor of the elevator separated from the rest of the car, and the two occupants plunged down the elevator shaft to their deaths. Emergency responders had to attend to friends and relatives of the victims who were understandably in shock.

3. January 14, 2016 - Moscow, Russia

When a woman entered an elevator at the elite Alye Parusa residential complex in Moscow, the elevator stopped too abruptly on the seventh floor. Suddenly, its floor gave way and the woman fell into the elevator shaft, killing her.

Prior to the accident, the residential complex had won numerous design awards.

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4. December 25, 2011 - New York City

At 10:00 a.m, 41-year-old advertising executive Suzanne Hart entered an elevator at the Madison Avenue office building housing Young & Rubicam, her employer.

Somehow Hart's foot or leg became caught in the closing elevator doors. The car then shot upwards, dragging Hart's body into the elevator shaft and killing her. Two people in the elevator who witnessed the accident had to be taken to a hospital and treated for psychological trauma.

5. December 9, 2011 - Long Beach, California

48-year-old Annette Lujan was an employee of university Cal State Long Beach when she stepped into an elevator at the university's Foundation Building.

When the elevator got stuck between the second and third floors, Lujan attempted to climb out of the elevator, but it started moving again, and the 2,000 pound car dropped onto Lujan.

Cal State Long Beach
Cal State Long Beach Source: Tom Ipri/Flickr

It took rescuers over an hour to lift the elevator off of her, and it was too late. Officials said the incident illustrates why people should never try to climb out of an elevator if it gets stuck.

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6. November 8, 2009 - Brooklyn, New York

Jerry Fuchs was a drummer in such independent rock groups as Turing Machine and Maserati, and with the artist Moby.

That November day, following a benefit concert, Fuchs entered an elevator in Brooklyn that stalled. Growing impatient for help to arrive, Fuchs attempted to jump out of the elevator and fell to his death in the elevator shaft.

7. June 2006 - Tokyo, Japan

16-year-old Hirosuke Ichikawa was backing his bicycle out of an elevator in the City Heights Takeshiba public housing complex. Suddenly, the elevator shot upwards, pinning Ichikawa against the door frame.

When police arrived, they cut power to the elevator and pulled Icikawa out, but even with no power, the elevator shot up to the top of the elevator shaft, stopped only by a collision prevention device.

8. September 7, 1999 - Yongin, South Korea

On that day, five women house painters entered an elevator in a building that was under construction by the Hanyang Construction Company. At the 10th floor of the building, the elevator suddenly plunged and crashed to the ground. All five women were killed.

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The building was one of 12 apartment buildings being constructed by the builder.

9. January 6, 1995 - Bronx, New York

That morning, 55-year-old James Chenault was going to his job of 20 years at the Kingsbridge Welfare Center. After Chenault and several other passengers entered the elevator in the lobby, the car shot up too quickly to the second floor, and stopped slightly above the floor.

Chenault lodged his back against one of the elevator doors to keep the doors from closing, and began handing several female passengers out onto the second floor.

Chenault had one foot in the elevator and the other foot on the second floor when suddenly the car shot upwards, beheading Chenault. With his head in the elevator along with two remaining passengers, and his body on the second floor, the elevator shot up to the ninth floor.

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10. May 21, 1989 - Barcelona, Spain

Seven people who were visiting patients entered an elevator at the L'Hospitalet de Llobregat hospital. At the seventh floor, the elevator fell. Witnesses described the accident as: "It was heard as the noise of a full speed train and a subsequent explosion."

L'Hospitalet de Llobregat  Barcelona Spain
 L'Hospitalet de Llobregat Barcelona, Spain Source: Ssola/Wikimedia Commons

According to a technical report, the piece that connects the elevator pulleys to the elevator car broke and the safety brake also failed.

Overloading was not an issue since the elevator's capacity was between 15 and 20 people. Six people died instantly and the seventh died later in the same hospital.

11. July 28, 1945 - New York City, U.S.

Lieutenant Colonel William Smith, Jr. was piloting a B-25 from Boston to LaGuardia Airport. That day was extremely foggy, and Smith's plane slammed into the north side of the Empire State building, between the 78th and 80th floors.

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Empire State Building, New York City
Empire State Building, New York City Source: Sam Valadi/Wikimedia Commons

The plane punched an 18 foot by 20 foot hole in the building, killing three people on board the plane and eleven people in the building.

Just below the crash site, on the 75th floor, elevator operator Betty Lou Oliver was inside the car of her elevator when burning airplane fuel entered the car, injuring Oliver.

When rescuers tried to move the elevator down to the ground, the elevator's cables snapped, sending the car into free fall down 75 stories. Incredibly, the cables arrived at the bottom of the elevator shaft before the car did, and they acted like a giant spring, cushioning the impact.

Incredibly, Oliver survived and holds the record for the longest survived descent in an elevator accident.

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