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‘I believed we were going to die.’ Elevator plunges 80 floors in Chicago skyscraper

Chicago firefighters rescued six people trapped in an elevator Friday after it plunged 80 stories. They had to cut through a concrete wall to find the elevator, stopped at the 11th floor in a blind shaft.
Chicago firefighters rescued six people trapped in an elevator Friday after it plunged 80 stories. They had to cut through a concrete wall to find the elevator, stopped at the 11th floor in a blind shaft. Chicago Fire Department

Jaime Montemayor and his wife, Maña Castillo, visiting Chicago from Mexico City, didn’t expect anything out of the ordinary when they stepped into a high-rise elevator after drinks Friday, reported WBBM.

Then they heard a loud “clack clack clack clack clack” sound, Montemayor said, according to The Chicago Tribune. Dust began falling into the elevator car as it began to drop.

“I knew something wasn’t OK,” Castillo said, reported the publication. The couple, among the six passengers in the elevator, began to pray.

“At the beginning I believed we were going to die,” Montemayor said, reported WBBM. “We were going down and then I felt that we were falling down.”

The elevator fell 84 stories, from the 95th floor to the 11th, before redundant elevator cables stopped its plunge, reported WLS-TV.

The incident took place at 10:30 p.m. Friday at 875 North Michigan Avenue, reported the station. The skyscraper, formerly known as the John Hancock Center, is Chicago’s fourth-tallest building.

No one was hurt, but the six passengers ended up waiting hours for rescue.

The rescue

The first challenge for firefighters was figuring out where exactly that elevator was stuck, the Tribune reported.

Luis Vasquez, a friend of someone who was stuck in the elevator, told WLS they initially thought the elevator was stuck on floor 96.

“ ... but after 20 minutes they found they were on the 12th floor,” Vasquez said, according to WLS. “The company for elevators said they lose one cable, so we were afraid that they have no security of the cables.”

In an attempt to get a “rough idea” of where the six people in the elevator might be, firefighters drilled hole into the concrete wall and used a camera to get a look inside the shaft, the Tribune reported.

“Once they did that, they knew which walls to break,” Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said, according to the newspaper.

The elevator was stuck at floor 11.

To rescue those stuck, a rescue crew hammered the wall “in the garage area of the 11th floor,” reports WBBM.

“It was a precarious situation where we had the cable break on top of the elevator (and) we couldn’t do an elevator-to-elevator rescue; we had to breach a wall,” Chicago Battalion Fire Chief Patrick Maloney said, according to WBBM.

Crews then used struts and bracings to secure the elevator, forced the door open and placed a ladder inside, the Tribune reports.

A pedestrian bridge under construction collapsed Thursday, just days after crews had dropped an elevated 950-ton span in place on a signature project that was intended to give Florida International University students a safe route across the busy

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