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Elevators are an essential part of buildings and cities. There are about 900,000 of them in the U.S. and over 15.3 million worldwide. Otis, one of the biggest elevator companies in the U.S., claims to carry the equivalent to the world’s population every five days. That’s like lifting all humans on the planet 73 times a year. Yeah, elevators are essential in tall buildings. But they can be dangerous too. In 2005, 37 people died in elevator-related accidents in the U.S. alone. So, here’s what you need to know before stepping into that lift.

How long could you be trapped in the car? Would you run out of air at some point? And how could you escape through the hatch?


Step 1: Don’t try to be a hero

Yeah, Hollywood loves that little hatch in elevators’ ceilings. But in real life, it only opens from outside for rescue workers. So, don’t waste time and energy trying to escape through it. The safest place to wait for help is inside the car. If hours have passed, and you haven’t been able to notify anyone of the emergency, try to pry open the doors. Even a tiny gap can help you find out where you are. And if you can see a source of light, you may be near a floor. Try screaming for help until somebody responds to you.

Step 2: Focus on the time

Being trapped in a small metal box suspended hundreds of meters above the ground could trigger your anxiety and even cause you to have a panic attack. But chill out. The British National Health Service suggests that you breathe slowly and focus on something visible and nonthreatening, like time passing on a clock, or remembering familiar things, like items in a supermarket. A common fear is running out of air. But elevators are not sealed, so you won’t suffocate.

And since there are so many elevators, incidents are not rare. In 2010, a survey conducted by IBM found that in 12 months, office workers in 16 major U.S. cities spent a total of 33 years stuck inside elevators.


Step 3: Push the button

The emergency buttons in newer elevators connect to monitored hotlines, so operators can send technicians or call emergency services when an elevator malfunctions. If someone answers, make sure you know how to ask for help in the local language.

Unfortunately, Ming Kuang Chen didn’t know how to do that. In 2005, the Chinese restaurant worker got trapped in an elevator while delivering an order in a New York City apartment building. Ming was trapped in the elevator, and he called for help on the intercom. But he didn’t speak English, so the operators couldn’t understand him, and decided not to do anything. When he didn’t return to work, his co-workers were worried. The police visited almost 900 apartments as they tried to find him. Ming was rescued after being trapped in the elevator for 81 hours.

Step 4: Hold the line

If there’s no fire or earthquake, it’s unlikely that the elevator car would fall. There’s only one reported case of an elevator car falling when there wasn’t a fire or a collapsing building. In 1945, a U.S. Army plane crashed into the Empire State Building in Manhattan, slicing through the cables holding the elevator where Betty Lou Oliver worked as an operator. The cab fell from the 75th floor. But, miraculously, she survived because the fallen cables softened the fall. So, just relax and hang out until help arrives.


Step 5: Keep it well maintained

Without a doubt, the best way to avoid being trapped in an elevator is careful, regular maintenance. A woman in the Chinese city of Xi’an (shee aan) found that out in 2016. She was trapped in her apartment building’s elevator after maintenance workers decided there was no one inside it and took the elevator out of service. Then, they went on holiday for a month to celebrate the Chinese New Year. When they finally returned, they found the woman’s dead body in the elevator. Her hands were mangled from trying to open the doors. One of the workers was arrested for negligent homicide. So, never skip maintenance.


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