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04-19-08, 10:47 AM #1
Man stuck in elevator for 41 hours still unemployed after quitting job and settling lawsuit
The longest smoke break of Nicholas White’s life began at around eleven o’clock on a Friday night in October, 1999. White, a thirty-four-year-old production manager at Business Week, working late on a special supplement, had just watched the Braves beat the Mets on a television in the office pantry. Now he wanted a cigarette. He told a colleague he’d be right back and, leaving behind his jacket, headed downstairs.
The magazine’s offices were on the forty-third floor of the McGraw-Hill Building, an unadorned tower added to Rockefeller Center in 1972. When White finished his cigarette, he returned to the lobby and, waved along by a janitor buffing the terrazzo floors, got into Car No. 30 and pressed the button marked 43. The car accelerated. It was an express elevator, with no stops below the thirty-ninth floor, and the building was deserted. But after a moment White felt a jolt. The lights went out and immediately flashed on again. And then the elevator stopped.
The control panel made a beep, and White waited a moment, expecting a voice to offer information or instructions. None came. He pressed the intercom button, but there was no response. He hit it again, and then began pacing around the elevator. After a time, he pressed the emergency button, setting off an alarm bell, mounted on the roof of the elevator car, but he could tell that its range was limited. Still, he rang it a few more times and eventually pulled the button out, so that the alarm was continuous. Some time passed, although he was not sure how much, because he had no watch or cell phone. He occupied himself with thoughts of remaining calm and decided that he’d better not do anything drastic, because, whatever the malfunction, he thought it unwise to jostle the car, and because he wanted to be (as he thought, chuckling to himself) a model trapped employee. He hoped, once someone came to get him, to appear calm and collected. He did not want to be scolded for endangering himself or harming company property. Nor did he want to be caught smoking, should the doors suddenly open, so he didn’t touch his cigarettes. He still had three, plus two Rolaids, which he worried might dehydrate him, so he left them alone. As the emergency bell rang and rang, he began to fear that it might somehow—electricity? friction? heat?—start a fire. Recently, there had been a small fire in the building, rendering the elevators unusable. The Business Week staff had walked down forty-three stories. He also began hearing unlikely oscillations in the ringing: aural hallucinations. Before long, he began to contemplate death.
Nicholas White opened the doors to urinate. As he did so, he hoped, in vain, that a trace of this violation might get the attention of someone in the lobby. He considered lighting matches and dropping them down the shaft, to attract notice, but still had the presence of mind to suspect that this might not be wise. The alarm bell kept ringing. He paced and waved at the overhead camera. He couldn’t tell whether it was night or day. To pass the time, he opened his wallet and compared an old twenty-dollar bill with a new one, and read the fine print on the back of a pair of tickets to a Jets game on Sunday afternoon, which he would never get to use. He imagined himself as Steve McQueen in “The Great Escape,” throwing the baseball against the wall. Eventually, he lay down on the floor, intent on sleep. The carpet was like coarse AstroTurf, and was lousy with nail trimmings and other detritus. It was amazing to him how much people could shed in such a short trip. He used his shoes for a pillow and laid his wallet, unfolded, over his eyes to keep out the light. It wasn’t hot, yet he was sweating. His wallet was damp. Maybe a day had passed. He drifted in and out of sleep, awakening each time to the grim recognition that his elevator confinement had not been a dream. His thirst was overpowering. The alarm was playing more aural tricks on him, so he decided to turn it off. Then he tried doing some Morse code with it. He yelled some more. He tried to pick away at the cinder-block wall.
At a certain point, he decided to go for the escape hatch in the ceiling. He thought of Bruce Willis in “Die Hard,” climbing up and down the shaft. He knew it was a dangerous and desperate thing to do, but he didn’t care. He had to get out of the elevator. The height of the handrail in the car made it hard for him to get a leg up. It took him a while to figure out and then execute the maneuver that would allow him to spring up to the escape hatch. Finally, he swung himself up. The hatch was locked.
And then he gave up. The time passed in a kind of degraded fever dream. On the videotape, he lies motionless for hours at a time, face down on the floor.
A voice woke him up: “Is there someone in there?”
“What are you doing in there?”
White tried to explain; the voice in the intercom seemed to assume that he was an intruder. “Get me the fuck out of here!” White shrieked. Duly persuaded, the guard asked him if he wanted anything. White, who had been planning to join a few friends at a bar on Friday evening, asked for a beer.
Before long, an elevator-maintenance team arrived and, over the intercom, coached him through a set of maneuvers with the buttons. White asked what day it was, and, when they told him it was Sunday at 4 P.M., he was shocked. He had been trapped for forty-one hours. He felt a change in the breeze, which suggested that the elevator was moving. When he felt it slow again, he wrenched the door open, and there was the lobby. In his memory, he had to climb up onto the landing, but the video does not corroborate this. When he emerged from the elevator, he saw his friends, with a couple of security guards, and a maintenance man, waiting, with an empty chair. His friends turned to see him and were appalled at the sight; he looked like a ghost, one of them said later. The security guard handed him an open Heineken. He took one sip but found the beer repellent, like Hans Castorp with his Maria Mancini cigar. White told a guard, “Somebody could’ve died in there.”
“I know,” the guard said.
White had to go upstairs to get his jacket. He demanded that the guards come with him, and so they rode together on the service elevator, with the elevator operator. The presence of others with radios put him at ease. In his office he found that his co-worker, in a fit of pique over his disappearance, had written an angry screed, and taped it to his computer screen, for all their colleagues to see. He went home, and then headed to a bar. He woke up to a reel of phone messages and a horde of reporters colonizing his stoop. He barely left his apartment in the ensuing days, deputizing his friends to talk to reporters through a crack in the door.
White never went back to work at the magazine. Caught up in media attention (which he shunned but thrilled to), prodded by friends, and perhaps provoked by overly solicitous overtures from McGraw-Hill, White fell under the sway of renown and grievance, and then that of the legal establishment. He got a lawyer, and came to believe that returning to work might signal a degree of mental fitness detrimental to litigation. Instead, he spent eight weeks in Anguilla. Eventually, Business Week had to let him go. The lawsuit he filed, for twenty-five million dollars, against the building’s management and the elevator-maintenance company, took four years. They settled for an amount that White is not allowed to disclose, but he will not contest that it was a low number, hardly six figures. He never learned why the elevator stopped; there was talk of a power dip, but nothing definite. Meanwhile, White no longer had his job, which he’d held for fifteen years, and lost all contact with his former colleagues. He lost his apartment, spent all his money, and searched, mostly in vain, for paying work. He is currently unemployed.
Looking back on the experience now, with a peculiarly melancholic kind of bewilderment, he recognizes that he walked onto an elevator one night, with his life in one kind of shape, and emerged from it with his life in another. Still, he now sees that it wasn’t so much the elevator that changed him as his reaction to it. He has come to terms with the trauma of the experience but not with his decision to pursue a lawsuit instead of returning to work. If anything, it prolonged the entrapment. He won’t blame the elevator.
Security camera video of Nicholas White's time in the elevator:
04-19-08, 11:21 AM #2
Hopefully people will take note.
Lawsuits aren't always the answer.No one has greater love than this, to lay down ones life for ones friends - John 15:13
"The Wicked Flee When No Man Pursueth: But The Righteous Are Bold As A Lion".
We lucky few, we band of brothers. For he who today sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~The opinions, beliefs, and ideas expressed in this post are mine, and mine alone. They are NOT the opinions, beliefs, ideas, or policies of my Agency, Police Chief, City Council, or any member of my department.
04-19-08, 01:04 PM #3
"After 40+ hours, he realized that he had simply forgotten to press the button for the first floor...."
Seriously though...that will make me think twice about taking the elevator on weekends if I have to go in for a few hours--
"And if the band you're in starts playing different tunes, I'll see you on the dark side of the moon..."
04-19-08, 10:29 PM #4Temporarily Civilianized
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LMAO@ EnderThere is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter.” -- Ernest Hemingway
04-19-08, 11:13 PM #5
The only elevator I've ever got stuck in was in a previous employer's parking garage one night - As soon as the door closed I knew I was screwed because water from melting snow on the top floor was streaking down the door and freezing when it hit the metal floor - seriously, it was frozen before the door opened.
So I tried to call the emergency phone when it refused to open, which didn't work because it had an automatic dialer which wasn't dialing the right area code (Dallas had recently changed area codes city-wide). My cell phone didn't work either (too much metal shielding around me in the elevator).
After that, I kicked the shit out of the door, and pried it open using the phone door, which I broke the hinges off of - Once the ice broke, it opened right up.
The next day the building management's security posted a flier asking people if they saw who vandalized their elevaror -and so I HAD to return to the scene of the crime to admire my handiwork, and then left for my office
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