Elevator Horror Stories

The Daily Beasts looks at harrowing elevator disasters—and near disasters—throughout history.

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Elevator Worker Fatally Electrocuted in Manhattan

An elevator mechanic was killed on March 28 around 9:30 p.m. in midtown Manhattan after being electrocuted. The man, Ed Bradley, of Staten Island, was reportedly performing maintenance in the engine room of Axa Equitable building at 1290 6th Avenue when he was electrocuted. A fire official said they found Bradley unconscious and in cardiac arrest, and a police source said Bradley died less than 30 minutes later. New York’s utility company Con Edison had been called to the building for safety reason, an agency spokesman said, but it was unclear how Bradley came in contact with the live wires. Bradley, a father of three, worked for the Schindler Group, a company that develops and installs elevators, for the past five years.

New York Woman Burned Alive in Elevator

New York police arrested a man on December 28 in the horrific burning death of a woman in Brooklyn elevator. The woman was burned alive in the elevator of her apartment building when a man, dressed as an exterminator, doused her with flammable liquid and then set her on fire with a Molotov cocktail in Prospect Heights. All of it was caught in disturbingly clear surveillance footage. The victim, Delores Gillespie, 64, was returning from grocery shopping. Jerome Isaac, 47, has been charged with first-degree murder in Gillespie's death after he turned himself into police. He reportedly had been hired by Gillespie to do odd jobs around her apartment, but had been fired recently when Gillespie caught him stealing.

Woman dies in N.Y.C. accident, 2011

A New York woman died on December 14 after being stuck between elevator doors when the car began moving, crushing her between two floors. A California woman suffered a similar fate in November at Cal State Long Beach. The New York woman was identified as 41-year-old Suzanne Hart, an advertising executive at Young & Rubicam.

Update: New Yorkers took to the stairs on December 15th and 16th following a stunning elevator accident that killed an advertising executive in midtown Manhattan. Many residents and workers in the nation’s biggest city bypassed riding the elevator, with some reportedly braving 10 flights of stairs as fear pulsated through a city of busy skyscrapers whose tenants depend on the vertical vehicles. Transel Elevator, a service company, had worked on the elevator just hours before Hart’s death, spurring investigators to look into what could have caused the car to move with open doors.

Man trapped for 41 hours, 1999

Nicholas White took what would be his longest smoke break ever on a Friday night in October 1999. White survived 41 hours stuck in a Manhattan skyscraper’s elevator; the ordeal was caught on the building’s surveillance camera. Afterward, White never returned to work for the magazine BusinessWeek, suing the building’s management company for $25 million—though he reportedly received just a fraction of that sum.

Elevator operator survives 75-story plummet, 1945

An elevator operator survived a mind-blowing fall in the Empire State Building in 1945 after a B-25 bomber plane took a wrong turn in heavy fog and crashed into the 78th floor of the building. The woman’s survival was reportedly aided by the massive amounts of elevator cable that created a trampoline effect, though the walls of the elevator car did collapse. She was found, injured but alive, on top of the crash’s rubble.

Estimated 200 people die in Twin Towers elevators, 2001

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In what is understood to be the worst elevator disaster of all time, an estimated 200 people died in elevators in the World Trade Center buildings on Sept. 11, 2001. Elevators plummeted once the buildings were hit, and balls of fire tore through shafts after the impact. USA Today reported in 2002 that it had identified about 100 people who had escaped from elevators that they pried open or whose doors were just opening as one of the planes hit. The paper said, however, that it could not ID any survivors who were rescued from stuck elevators.

85-year-old nun survives four days being stuck, 2011

In April 2011, a nun survived four days and nights trapped in her convent’s elevator while her fellow sisters were away at a convention. Sister Margaret Geary, 85, survived on celery sticks, a bottle of water, and cough drops she sucked on to quell her thirst.

26 cheerleaders stuck in Texas elevator, 2008

While it’s estimated that some 30 million people ride elevators each day, there are probably few rides that begin with as much pep as this one did in 2008. That soon changed as the group of teenage cheerleaders who were attending a camp at the University of Texas overflowed an elevator. The elevator made it to the first floor, where the doors wouldn’t open, forcing maintenance workers to pry it open after the girls had been trapped for nearly 30 minutes.

28 people stuck in a subway elevator, 2011

In April 2011, 28 people jammed into a New York City subway elevator and survived being stuck for nearly an hour. Maintenance workers could not bring the elevator back to a landing and were forced to remove each person from the elevator individually.

Deliveryman stuck for three days, 2005

A Chinese food delivery man was stuck in an elevator for three days but survived the ordeal, after his co-workers feared he had been killed. The man, Ming Kuang Chen, was without food or water the entire time. Police had searched the Bronx high-rise where he was stuck, but never thought he was in one of its elevators. Chen, who didn’t speak English, had made calls on the intercom to the building’s security workers, who heard him but couldn’t deduce what he was saying.

Man’s head severed, 2003

In 2003 a Houston doctor, Hitoshi Nikaidoh, died after he was stuck in an elevator’s doors and had his head severed when the elevator began moving.

Movie stars survive plummeting elevator, 2011

A 2008 New Yorker article estimated that around 26 people die each year in elevator-related incidents, most of them maintenance workers. In October 2011, a group of actors and movie executives plummeted eight stories at New York's Gramercy Park Hotel following a movie screening. Director David M. Rosenthal was one of 14 people to survive the fall. They all climbed out a two-foot gap in the elevator, whose car, luckily, did not move during their escapes.