Monday, October 3, 2011

Scary moments while trapped in a lift

LAST week, a woman fractured her right leg when a lift at a mall reportedly plunged two levels to the lower ground floor. Fortunately, the seven-month pregnant 25-year-old was not critically injured, and her unborn, at the time of writing, is safe.

To be trapped in a lift is scary enough, let alone be involved in a plunge. Consider yourself lucky if you have gone through the last 10 years of using lifts and have never been trapped. I have been caught several times and I know how it feels.

The first incident was in the 1980s. The lift I used daily to get to the third floor where my office was located had a history of breakdowns.

Usually, I would wait for help and often it came within minutes.

That day, at 7.45am, the lift broke down as I was on the way up to the office. The security guard who was usually stationed at the lift lobby had gone for his teh tarik.

There were no CCTVs.

The lift car came to a halt after the digital screen flashed second floor. After waiting for close to 20 minutes and having pressed the emergency button to no avail, I concluded that it was better to get out since I had no way of knowing if help was coming or anyone was even aware that I was trapped.

A few weeks prior to the incident, I had seen two lift servicemen working on one of the lifts at the same office block. I asked them what they would do if they were trapped in a lift and they showed me how to get out. That knowledge came in handy that fateful day.

Not only was I fortunate enough to be able to open the lift's inner and outer door, the lift was stuck nearer to the lower floor than the floor above. I only needed to jump out quickly.

On hindsight, I realised that it was a stupid thing to do but that day, the folly of youth must have got the better of me. I have vowed, however, never to ever try it again because the thought of getting caught should the lift move was even scarier than being trapped in one.

Another unforgettable incident happened at the Putra World Trade Centre in the early 1990s. As soon as the lift I stepped in left the 25th floor, on the way down, the cabin shuddered and stopped. The emergency lights kicked in but when it did not move for about five minutes, a woman passenger panicked and started pounding the alarm button but knocked out the emergency lights instead. Then she started screaming.

In what appeared to be an eternal 15 minutes or so, the lift car moved again. When we got out on the ground floor, a security guard explained that a major blackout had hit the city and the lift's emergency response took longer than usual to kick in. Usually, during a malfunction, he explained, such lift cars would be automatically lowered safely to ground level.

Say what you want but passenger lifts have changed little since they were invented in the 1800s. They are still little boxes attached to cables, designed to work 24-hours a day, rain or shine, or until the doors jam or cables snap.

They are usually safe unless they are continuously abused -- especially by those who use them as garbage chutes or toilets, or to transport motorcycles to their homes in the upper floors.

Even the innocent ones who persistently punch the buttons are guilty of abuse because they know very well that their damaging action would not get the lift to move any faster.

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