Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Freak elevator accident

I live in an old New York City apartment building with a predictably cranky old elevator, so I carefully read any news item about elevators. The news this morning was scary indeed, with a woman actually dying in a freak elevator accident not that far from my apartment building. They had the address in the article and it sounded very near a building I had once visited years ago.
During my daily walk around midtown Manhattan I detoured slightly (two blocks) to walk on Madison Avenue past 41st and 40th streets, where I could see lots of emergency and media vehicles. I watched and talked to a few people for a few minutes, and saw a stretcher being wheeled into the building, around roughly 2:30 PM, which was like four and a half hours after the incident. That suggests that it took quite some time for the fire department (or whoever) to actually remove her body from the elevator/shaft. Must have been gruesome.
I read that the building was built in 1926 – same year as my apartment building. We have multiple "outages" of our elevator every year. I usually walk down the stairs from my top/10th floor apartment when leaving the building; I used to try to walk up the stairs a fair amount; maybe I'll do so more frequently now.
When our elevator is out they let us ride in the old freight elevator which is the really old manual style of elevator where the "elevator operator" moves this lever back and forth to manually start and stop the elevator with this scissor-fold door that moves back and forth. Hey, at least then the operator has some options if something goes wrong and can stop the elevator immediately. That's the downside of these fully-automatic modern "contraptions."
I have no idea whether the elevator in that build was an older-older model or had been updated to some more state of the art configuration. I suspect the latter since there are a number of sophisticated tenants in that building. Assuming the latter... hmmm... I wonder... was the elevator "malfunction" a hardware failure or (God forbid) a software bug? Or, maybe a discrepancy between the "spec" that the software was written to and how the hardware actually behaves. Or, maybe, there are one or more possible "user errors" that should obviously be treated much more benignly but for whatever reasons was not "handled" properly. My current suspicion is that the "Is door closed?" sensor malfunctioned, indicating that the door was closed fully when clearly it was not, and the elevator was permitted to move even though the door was clearly not closed.


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