Trapped in Elevator for 3 Days
Sometimes you just can’t take the stairs. Maybe you’re tired after a long week, maybe you’re carrying something heavy, or maybe you suffer from limited mobility, such is the case of wheelchair users or the elderly. In times like this, the humble elevator – an invention that’s been with us in some form since even the Roman Empire – is a godsend. So, you step inside, press the button corresponding to your intended floor, and wait. From there, you’re on easy street.
Or so you’d think. Because, when you’re unlucky, this mundane contraption has the potential to become your final resting place. Take the horrifying case of Marites Fortaliza, a mild-mannered, fifty-three-year-old housekeeper from Queens. Fortaliza worked for the owners of a five-story townhouse at 48 East 65th Street, on the Upper
East Side, near the iconic Madison Avenue. If you have even a passing knowledge of New York real estate, you’ll know that you need to be absolutely loaded to afford a place like that. Warren Stephens – the billionaire investment banker who owns the place – definitely fits the bill. He and his wife, Harriet, bought the home for a stunning eight million dollars in 1999.
Marites probably felt lucky to score such a lucrative position, until one fateful Friday night in the January of 2019. The Stephens were away for the weekend, and Marites was doing her regular cleaning duties, when she decided to take the home’s private elevator back to the bottom floor. That’s when disaster struck. The elevator jammed in the shaft during the descent, and just like that, Marites Fortaliza
Was stuck. Unlucky for her, this elevator didn’t have a working phone or an emergency button – which is a legal requirement for private elevators in New York that aren’t continuously monitored. In other words – with the owners away for the weekend, and with no means of communicating with the outside, she was in deep trouble. If you suffer from claustrophobia, you’re probably already sweating, but here are a
Few more frightening facts: While someone can starve for as long as seventy days before dying, dehydration can take as little as three days to become mortally dangerous. Three days – that’s just a long weekend, which seemed to be exactly what the Stephens were taking. If Marites didn’t get extremely lucky, then time really wasn’t on her side. Right now, you’re probably thinking “This is scary, but it’s a freak accident.
There’s no reason to be concerned about stepping on an elevator.” And sure, you’re mostly right, but this isn’t an unprecedented case. Even in New York City alone, elevators are notoriously prone to malfunction. Back in 1999, the same year the Stephens bought the house that Marites Fortaliza was currently trapped inside, Nicholas White – a production manager for Business Week magazine – underwent a similar ordeal.
The hard-working 32-year-old, much like Marites, was preparing to clock off on a quiet Friday evening. Feeling tired from a long week, he decided to take the elevator down from his office in the midtown Manhattan high-rise where the magazine was based. When the metal doors shuttered behind him, it was 11:24 PM, and Nicholas was one of the last to leave.
Just as he was probably thinking about how to spend his weekend, set to the ambiance of tinny elevator music, the elevator jammed just above the 13th floor. Talk about an unlucky number. Naturally, he was calm at first – after all, it’s not uncommon for elevators to get a little jolt now and then. But when it became apparent that he wasn’t going to be moving again, the panic started
To set in. He screamed and yelled, trying to attract the attention of someone outside, but nobody was there to hear him. He pressed every single button on the interface, but had no luck. He even attempted to call maintenance, and was met with no response. It wasn’t until he’d spent over forty hours in the elevator that he was eventually
Discovered and freed. Nicholas was shaken by the experience, refusing medical treatment because he just wanted to go home and sleep the whole scary incident off. The McGraw-Hill Companies, the parent entity of Business Week Magazine, naturally had some questions as to how exactly Nicholas could remain undetected for so long. This wasn’t a private residence, like the house where Marites Fortaliza found herself
Trapped, it was a fifty-floor building owned by the Rockefeller Center Management Corporation. When asked, they passed the buck to New York electrical company Consolidated Edison. Con Edison did admit that at 11:21 PM that same night, they did experience a voltage dip lasting a tenth of a second, which may have accounted for some of the malfunction. However, this still doesn’t account for why nobody was monitoring the elevator, and why it took almost two days for Nicholas to be noticed.
One theory is that the cameras the building claimed to have for the elevator shafts were largely just for show, rather than live feeds that were actually being routinely monitored. In the end, we’ll never really know why Nicholas White spent forty hours in the elevator shaft. Nicholas himself was just eager to put the whole thing behind him – but while she was still trapped in that tiny personal elevator, that was a luxury that Marites Fortaliza didn’t
Have. As the hours passed, it was probably beginning to dawn on Marites that she might not be saved in time. There was no food, no water, and perhaps most uncomfortably of all, no bathroom. According to US life insurance statistics, the odds of dying in an elevator are 1 in 10,440,000.
But New York State has a population of almost twenty million people, so maybe she was about to get unlucky. After all, accidents happen. Another similar accident occurred in New York City in 2005, six years after Nicholas’ unfortunate incident in Manhattan. Ming Kuang Chen, a thirty-five-year old delivery man for the Happy Dragon – a Chinese takeout
Restaurant in the Bronx – mysteriously disappeared during a delivery to one of the Tracey Towers, a pair of 38-story apartment buildings at 40 West Mosholu Parkway near Jerome Avenue. When Ming didn’t return from his delivery, and his bicycle was found chained up outside, his friends, family, and employers feared the worst: After a series of delivery man homicides that’d taken place over the past five years in New York City, they thought Ming had been murdered.
Police began looking into the matter immediately. They canvassed the area with cadaver-detecting police dogs, sending police scuba divers into the nearby Jerome Park Reservoir, and asking door to door at the over eight hundred apartments in the Tracey Towers. They discovered that Ming had made all his required deliveries before vanishing without a trace.
Little did they know, as they practically turned the building and its surrounding area upside down in their search, Ming Kuang Chen was actually right next to them the whole time. He’d spent the last three days and then some without food and water, trapped in a malfunctioning express elevator. He’d been trapped for over double the time that Nicholas White was locked in – clocking
In at a terrifying eighty-one hours. Ming had been screaming desperately for help the whole time, but nobody had heard him. Much like White’s case, the circumstances of how Ming could be trapped for so long is a little mysterious – with the building managers insisting that the cameras in the building were still fully functional. Ultimately, Ming was just happy to be free, though he was understandably shaken by the
Incident. He was treated for dehydration at a local hospital before being questioned by police about the strange incident. Ming had managed to make contact with building maintenance over the intercom several times during his confinement, but being a relatively recent immigrant from the Fuzhou region of Fujian Province in South-Eastern China, he couldn’t speak fluent English.
The language barrier kept building maintenance from being able to fully understand and help Ming, keeping him trapped in his four-by-six prison. All in all, Ming was just grateful to be free in the end, though the incident may have soured him on the delivery driver profession. The cruel irony of where he was trapped wasn’t lost on Ming, either, as he commented that the people in the Tracey Towers apartment building had always been lousy tippers.
Plenty of people out there have elevator horror stories, some more mild than others. Brian Acott, a man from the UK, was trapped just above the ground floor of his office building, but managed to pry the doors open and climb free. A Canadian man interviewed by the BBC, who identified himself only as Don, recounted the time he was trapped in an elevator on the 55th floor of the Empire State building when he was eleven years old.
He, his aunt, and two Danish tourists were trapped in the elevator for around an hour and a half – during which time he had to urinate in the corner. In one particularly funny example of an elevator mishap, Kenny Wheeler, another guy from the UK, was trapped in an elevator at his place of work for just under an hour. After nobody responded to his calls for help, he posted a Facebook status update to try to get people’s attention.
Ten of his friends liked the status, though only one actually called his place of work and got him freed from the elevator. But it isn’t all fun and games. Lydia Kari, from Nairobi, Kenya, was trapped in an elevator with a stranger high on an unknown drug. 19-year-old Australian student Cailem Leembruggen caught some terrifying cell phone footage,
When he was trapped in an elevator packed with fourteen people, before the elevator began hurtling downwards at ninety miles per hour. Miraculously, nobody was seriously hurt in the incident. This was the kind of incredible luck Marites Fortaliza needed, as she sat in that darkened New York elevator, waiting and hoping to be rescued before it was too late. Of course, not everyone is lucky in a situation like this.
Elevator malfunctions have been responsible for some pretty horrific deaths. Take the harrowing story of Ms. Wu, a 40-year-old woman in the Gaoling district of Beijing who died a death you probably wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. She became trapped in a broken elevator in her apartment building, which two repair workers had left in an unusable state without proper signage for thirty days. She was trapped inside that elevator the entire time it was out of commission, resulting in
A grim and lonely death from starvation and dehydration. Ms. Wu became an unwitting martyr for the cause of better public maintenance in China, after a series of deaths resulting from horrific elevator and escalator accidents that were the direct result of shoddy maintenance and repair. Ms. Wu’s death can actually be directly linked to one negligent action from the two workers tasked with turning off the elevator’s power: They called into the elevator to check
If anyone was in there, but didn’t – as regulations dictate – pry open the doors to check if anyone was inside. If they had done this, Ms. Wu may not have suffered such a horrible fate. Though she’s not the only one. Many people have fallen to their deaths down elevator shafts. And in one example that feels like a scene straight out of a horror movie, a doctor in
Houston, Texas, named Hitoshi Nikaidoh was decapitated by an elevator – which cut off his head above the lower jaw, causing it to land in the car of the elevator. The experience was something out of a nightmare for one of his co-workers, Karin Steinau, who was trapped inside the elevator with the doctor’s severed head. It’s hard to even imagine something more horrifying than this. While Marites Fortaliza was neither decapitated, nor trapped in an elevator with a decapitated
Head, death from dehydration in the vein of Ms. Wu was a real threat. As the hours drew on, she began to doubt that anyone would come to save her. Trapped without anything to pass the time, she began to lose all sense of how long she’d been in there. Would she just be another statistic? Another name to reel off in an article or video about strange elevator-based deaths?
Well, luckily for Marites, the Stephens were about to receive a delivery. When the delivery worker arrived on Monday, they were unable to deliver the package, so they contacted the Stephens. The Stephens then contacted a family member who could go and collect the delivery. This family member finally noticed that Marites was trapped inside the broken elevator, and finally called the authorities.
Police and firefighters managed to safely rescue Marites Fortaliza from the private elevator of the Stephens’ five-story townhouse. Like all locations where a lot of people congregate on a daily basis, accidents happen in elevators. Sometimes, these accidents can lead to pretty horrifying consequences. But other times, such as in the case of Marites Fortaliza, you just get lucky. Want to hear more miraculous stories of survival?
Check out “I Was Trapped In a Cave For 18 Days with Water Rising” and “I Was Trapped Underwater For Three Days.” In the meantime, if you can, maybe take the stairs next time.