Monday, April 11, 2011

28 People Trapped Inside A Crowded Subway Elevator (Video)

The 181st Street subway station on the 1 line in Washington Heights—the same station where the roof collapsed in 2009—has no stairs, leaving elevators the only means into and out of the tunnel. This past Friday at 8:35pm, one of those elevators stopped working and trapped 28 people inside. Here's what happened...

On April 8, an elevator inside the 1 line station at 181st Street stopped working with 28 people inside, including an MTA assistant who was operating it. Isabella, a 35-year-old temporary neighborhood resident who didn't want her last name used, was inside when the elevator failed. It's not clear if this elevator was one of new ones reportedly installed at this station in 1999.

The escalators and elevators in New York City's transit system are notorious for being poorly maintained and often broken-down. The Daily News recently reported an elevator nearby at the 191st Street station trapped people five times between October and December of last year. It "may be the worst in the system," they wrote.

It was hot and crazy when the unit at 181st Street failed, Isabella told NYC The Blog in an email, and hard to breathe. One of those trapped was a young girl who had asthma. "She was scared," Isabella wrote, and had a "hysterical attack." The MTA employee present called 911 "several times" but otherwise was just as helpless as the others. Some passed the time with friendly conversation. "What's your favorite song," one asked. Others fanned the young girl to keep help keep her cool.

The FDNY arrived to help extract the trapped commuters about an hour later. "I need the young and the old," a firefighter told the crowd after he opened a hatch on the elevator's roof. Trapped passengers were placed in another elevator and lifted out. Still inside the broken elevator, Isabella panned her camera around as people said hi. At least one said hello to YouTube, a sly acknowledgment that the video would likely end up there.

The MTA's New York City Transit Twitter account told NYC The Blog that "28 customers were released from EL110 and did not request medical." "Repairs were made," they added, "and the machine is being test operated for 24 hours" before being placed back in service for this morning's rush hour commute.

The experience has changed the way Isabella commutes. She will not use that station anymore. "Why are no there stairs in the whole station?" she wondered in her email to NYC The Blog. "Where are the emergency exits? What could happened if the electricity didn't work, how would all the people get out from underground?"

This is to say nothing of disabled persons who need an elevator to enter and exit subway tunnels. For them, arriving at a broken elevator contributes to making the subway system a "very, very scary place."

Back on the street after being rescued, Isabella walked the block home. Did the MTA follow up with her or try to contact her about the incident? "No one asked us our name or anything," she wrote, "so it's impossible that they could contact me!"

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