Elevators and death

I have had a phobia about elevators as long as I can remember…it’s a mix of claustrophobia and the fear that the elevator will suddenly plunge to the bottom of the shaft with me in it. Can this happen? how safe are elevators?

Elevators (as far as I know) are actually quite safe. They have safeguards like brakes that engage if the cables break and things like that. Your biggest danger in a stuck elevator is trying to get out through pried open doors and getting hurt that way (if the elevator jerks or something while you’re halfway out). Inside the cage of a stuck elevator is where you should stay.

That said, I get claustrophobic in elevators, too. I don’t worry about plunging to my death, though; just getting stuck in there and having to wait hours to get out.

I have never gotten stuck in elevator…thank God…
Good news about the brakes. I wasn’t sure they had brakes.

They have brakes. They have very, very good brakes.

It has happened. Twice. Ever. Once on 9/11 and once in the Empire State Building in 1945 when a plane crashed into it. The sole occupant of the 1945 incident survived. There are at least 6 independent cables, each of which is easily strong enough to hold the cab. If all the cables did some how snap, then a set of brakes automatically deploy. If the brakes also fail to fail, then there’s a hydraulic buffer at the base of shaft to cushion the impact. I think that’s pretty safe.

Ever heard of Otis elevators? The company (now owned by United Technologies) was founded by Elisha Otis in 1853 and was based on his patent for a safety brake for elevators. So the technology for safely stopping elevators has been around for quite a while.

As far as I am aware, the “elevator plunge” has only happened once. A B25 bomber got lost in fog and slammed into the 75th floor of the Empire State Building. The plane damaged all of the elevator cables. Betty Lou Oliver, an elevator operator, ended up falling 75 stories in the damaged elevator.


I’m not sure if any elevators fell in the 9/11 attacks.

Elevators have several safety devices on them. If the elevator starts to fall too fast, a braking device will automatically clamp onto the cable and slow it down. There is also a hydraulic buffer at the bottom of the shaft to cushion the impact should the elevator somehow manage to plunge to the bottom.

So, unless someone rams a plane into your building, you have nothing to worry about.

You’re far more likely to die of a heart attack in an elevator than anything the elevator could do to you. The only people who tend to get killed by elevators are technicians and builders who occasionally fall down the shaft. Or the occasional bystander who walks through a malfunctioning door without looking, and plunges to his doom.

Of course, if you’re in an elevator you’ll never see or hear the plane coming.

Yep. There you are, standing in your tiny metal box, and then the bottom drops out.


That’s why I only take glass elevators. If a plane is going to sever the cable I want to know about it beforehand.

Now that the question has been answered I wanted to mention a practical joke I used to play at an old job. They had lifts (elevators) in a 5 story building and people being what they are, the stairs were hardly ever used.

That used to give me the opportunity to leg it down the stairs as fast as possible when I saw people getting on at the top floor and beat the lift to the destination. At which point I would press my palms on the lift doors hard and stop them from opening. The sudden cries of panic and worry from those “trapped” inside would come through loud and clear as long as I could hold out.

And as the doors finally opened I had about 10sec to make my getaway…

Swell. Now all I have to worry about is an errant plane hitting the building while I am in the elevator.

I live on the ninth floor, and find that I can often outrun the elevator going up. At least, if the elevator doesn’t start at the first floor and the folks taking it need to call it.

“Fall” isn’t the word. The fuel that ignited in the elevator shaft drove the carriages down like a bullet in a gun. when they bottomed out the doors were blown open. Even with that the passengers survived (although severely burned).

I can’t think of a safer mode of transportation.

From the Otis article “At the New York Crystal Palace, Elisha Otis amazed a crowd when he ordered the only rope holding the platform on which he was standing cut.[1] The rope was severed by an axeman, and the platform fell only a few inches before coming to a halt.”

Yeah, you’re safe.

She answers to the name "Lucky.’


a malfunlction door? The only way the doors will open when the car is not there are it a mechanic strings the lock and opens the door, or if the door lock breaks and some one prys open the door. The outer doors do not have openers on them, the inner (car door) door opens the outer door.

Sometimes the outer doors fail to close. Sometimes they break. And sometimes people fall through when an elevator is stuck between floors.

But that sort of thing is pretty unusual.

Unless an cable elevator is heavly loaded, it will fall up if the motor and operating breaks fail not down.

The car has a set of pincher breaks that are forced against the shaft rails. The futher the car travels with the breaks applied the more they pinch the shaft rails.

The worst thing you can do in a stalled elevator is try and get out if you do not know what you are doing.

In San Francisco in a high rise building an man got out of the cab and onto the top during a power outage. The power came back on and the elevator started down he lost his ballance and fell 20 stories.

There have been cases of elevators stopping abover the floor. The people inside get the door open and jump out. Only to loose their ballance and fall backward and fall under the car, which was on a high floor.

The most dangerous thing about an elevator is the persons ridding it.

I know a mechanic who advises going to the bathroom before getting on an elevator incase you have to wait to get out.

Two of the three cases are what I was refering to. The third is hard to imanage, because it would require extreamly poor maintenance. For the outer door to c come off would require a number of failures. (I am not doubting it happened, just never considered it.