Man crushed to death by elevator in Manhattan building

The Manhattan Promenade apartment building, in the Kips Bay neighborhood of Manhattan.
The Manhattan Promenade apartment building, in the Kips Bay neighborhood of Manhattan.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - A man was crushed to death in an elevator Thursday morning (Aug 22) at a Manhattan apartment building that had been recently fined for unsafe elevator conditions, authorities said.

Firefighters responding to a 911 call for an elevator emergency at the Manhattan Promenade, in the Kips Bay neighbourhood, found one man trapped in part of the elevator, which was stuck between the lobby and the basement floors, a Fire Department spokesman said.

That man, 30, whose identity has not been made public, was pronounced dead at the scene. Firefighters rescued three people who were on the elevator and appeared uninjured, the department said.

A building employee said that security footage from the lobby recorded the fatal accident.

The video showed the elevator stopping on the first floor and two people stepping out, said the employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to reporters.

As the door started to close and the elevator descended, the man who died put out his hand to try to stop the door from closing. But the elevator kept going down - and that's when the man tried to rush through the door and got caught.

"Like jumping out of a car if it's still moving," the building employee said.

Around 11am, two men wheeled a black body bag on a stretcher out of the building and loaded it into the back of a medical examiner's van.

The Manhattan Promenade, a 23-storey tower, has two elevators for tenants, and the city's Department of Buildings fined the building nearly US$1,300 (S$1,800) in May after inspectors found that a safety feature on one of the elevators had been disabled or tampered with.

The building was ordered to cease using that elevator until it was fixed. But tenants said on Thursday that they had not been told about the faulty elevator and were still using it as of Wednesday, when it was shut down after another problem.

ATA Enterprises, which manages the building, did not immediately respond to a voicemail seeking comment.

Building investigators at the scene on Thursday determined that the man had been riding the second elevator and not the one subject to a fine.

The building's management company issued a work permit a month ago to an elevator repair company to fix wiring on both elevators, according to city records. The city was looking into that permit on Thursday, including what repairs it entailed, and whether that work had been completed.

The repair company, American Elevator & Machine, could not be reached for comment.

The safety feature that had been altered in the elevator, known as a door zone restrictor, prevents a door from opening more than a few inches when an elevator is between floors. City records did not show that it had been fixed.

"WARNING SIGNS'

One building resident, Alex, 25, who declined to give his last name, said that the elevators were prone to malfunction, often jerking around with riders in it. One of the building's elevators was not operating on Thursday before the accident, he said.

"We saw the warning signs," Alex said. "The thing breaks all the time. It's pretty bad."

On one occasion, he said, he had to pull the elevator's single, sliding door shut by hand to seal himself inside. "The door won't close all the way," he said.

Another resident, a young woman who was exiting the building and also declined to give her name, compared the elevator to a scary Halloween-style amusement park ride.

"It's out all the time. I've been stuck inside the elevator before," the woman said. "It's super scary; they always jump between floors."

Dayna Sargen, who lives on the eighth floor with her husband and children, said she spent the morning crying after learning what happened.

"I don't know if I'll ever feel comfortable putting my kids in an elevator here again," she said. "The elevators are constantly breaking down; there are very, very frequent maintenance issues with the elevator."

Her husband, Peter Sargen, said within the past few days he was riding one of the elevators and felt it "wobbling" so much that he reported it to the building's staff.

There are more than 70,000 elevators in New York City, but deadly accidents are rare.

In 2011, a 44-year-old advertising executive was killed after she became pinned between the elevator and the wall of a midtown office building.