Woman killed in "freak elevator accident" - how did the elevator fall?

When I was a very young child, my dad told me about a friend of his who fell down an elevator shaft and died. Maybe this was to try to scare me away from open elevator shafts specifically, but its result was to give me a phobia of all elevator usage, which stayed with me until my early 20s when I read a little bit about how modern elevators work and that they have numerous failsafe devices in place.

Lo and behold, today I see this article on CNN about a woman whose elevator plummeted down and killed her. There’s no explanation in the article about how it happened (though I assume there is going to be a very thorough investigation by engineers), and it says the elevator had recently been inspected for safety and deemed safe.

So, what could have happened to cause this? How many different components would have to fail in an elevator for it to actually drop down and kill someone?

It didn’t plummet, it sounds like it descended a half floor and crushed her. Horrifying. More details on the elevator here.

I also read, years ago, about a case where the maintenance personnel turned off one of the failsafes while they were working on the elevator, then forgot to turn it back on before returning it to service.

There are more details in the video. It says she was loading a box into the (old) elevator, and somehow tripped a sensor that indicates the doors are closed. The elevator did not fall, it started descending normally - except that the doors were open. She was presumably halfway into the elevator in the open doorway - she was trapped between elevator and floor and asphyxiated.

I just read another article about the freak accident. A guy helping her apparently lived there and knew that the elevator was a little tricky, and he cautioned her somewhat specifically. He then took the stairs (because there wasn’t room enough for him and the box(es) he was carrying? My speculation.)


It very much looked like an old elevator, some of which are grandfathered in although by now they probably should have been replaced. They can be… quirky. I used to live in a building with an ancient elevator and I would up taking the stairs a LOT because of the quirks.

From what I understand - the majority of elevator-related deaths are those of mechanics/technicians working on them, rather than passengers. The Wikipedia article on elevator accidents easily lists all cases (that it could find) in which there was at least one death. In almost every case it wasn’t a regular passenger-carrying elevator in a building, and most happened many decades ago.


That’s why it’s been called a “freak” accident - elevator accidents are VERY rare. Even the old elevators have been outfitted with additional safety features although, as this case illustrates, nothing is perfect.

The usual scenario is akin to this one. Someone is loading or unloading the elevator when it begins to move with the doors open. The person quickly decides to get on or get off rather than simply jumping away from the doorway. IOW they’re on and decide to get off or are off and decide to get on. That’s the fatal mistake.

Very quickly the elevator has moved up or down enough they’re crushed either against the roof of the doorway or the floor of the doorway. The car versus doorway forms a very powerful set of “scissors” with the person trapped across the “blades”.

The answer is simple: Jump away from the doorway. If you’re already on, stay on. If you’re already off, stay off. If you’re half and half, probably best to jump whichever way has more/enough room for you. That’s usually the lobby, but may not be if you’ve got enough boxes or other people piled around.

I know a guy who was at a party that took place on the roof of an abandoned unfinished house. They danced all night and had fun on the roof of the fifth floor, the light was only from the garlands that everyone hung around the perimeter, of course, there was alcohol, and when my friend decided to go downstairs to the toilet, he stepped, as he said, into the darkness. It flew four floors and fell on some kind of debris a meter away from the iron bars, it was an unfinished elevator shaft !! But, he survived! He broke his spine, learned to walk and run again, it was a shock for all of us.
Just imagine when you are drunk stepping into the dark and flying, and then you wake up in the hospital and realize that you cannot move. Now he is fine, he stopped drinking alcohol and dancing on rooftops.
by the way, everyone calls him Viking :slightly_smiling_face:

Imagine how that guy must feel now :worried:

The reports are that on the scene the guy was hyperventilating and in a very bad mental state as he saw the whole accident/death take place.

Yeah but it’s double for him; both the horror of seeing it happen but also probably some lingering feeling that he could have done more (he’s not responsible in any sense, but it’s hard not to feel that in the moment as events repeatedly play out in ones mind).
I feel really bad for him, as well as of course the woman herself and everyone else affected.

Not real life but in a movie long, long ago there was a relatively modern elevator with an old-fashioned pointer to show the floor it was on instead of lit numbers, which I found odd. Then through a long train of contrivances the doors on an upper floor open with no car present, the victim leans into the shaft then the doors close on him, trapping him. Cut to the lobby showing the pointer moving down, hesitating, then moving on.

Lockout-tagout is a thing when servicing equipment that can exert energies or forces sufficient to kill or seriously injure. However, human beings are famously lazy when it comes to workplace safety; sometimes people don’t fully shut off the equipment they’re servicing, or they don’t affix a lock like they’re supposed to (and someone comes along and turns the machinery on).

See survivor guilt; it happens a lot, and can be bad enough to drive survivors of traumatic events to take their own lives afterward.

There is something wrong with an elevator that can move without the door being shut.

Between my old job, and my friend who is a pipefitter, I’ve heard of a number of lock-out tag-out fails. They’re usually very bad. (sample bias I guess, or I would not be hearing about them, but still)

What a horrifying story :cry:

This makes me think of a number of elevators in Europe which don’t have doors on the moving part of the elevator - they only have a door on the outside (floor side), and you can see the floors move by as the elevator cabin moves. One time I was caught in an elevator that was stuck partially between floors and one of the guys in the elevator kicked open the exterior door and everyone crawled out through the gap… if the elevator started moving again while someone was crawling out this sort of event could have happened :fearful:

Which is why, unless the building is on fire, it’s VASTLY safer to wait until the elevator repair people can resolve this properly.

For 99.9% of cases, being trapped in an elevator is unnerving and annoying, not life threatening. Climbing through the opening of a misaligned and known malfunctioning elevator is stupid dangerous.

I also worked a construction site where someone came along, noted the lock, decided there shouldn’t be a lock there, and cut the lock off. Fortunately, that made so much noise we realized something was up and was able to avoid an accident, but there are some world-class idiots out there (no, it was not a member of the construction crew. It was the homeowner.)

I’ve heard of other instances where people screwed with the lockout-tagout system in similar ways. It’s not a good thing.