By Raina Bedford
Last Wednesday, an elevator in the library malfunctioned–sending thirteen students on a freefall from the fifth floor to the basement.
Katherine Papamanolis, a resident of Roosevelt Quad originally from Brooklyn, said that, after the elevator door closed at the fifth floor, the elevator beeped and then plummeted down the six story drop.
When the elevator hit the basement, students felt it finally level itself out and come to a stop. Immediately after the elevator came to a halt, students inside phoned campus police using the emergency button. Police simply told the students “someone is coming and everything is okay.” Police didn’t tell the students in the elevator how long it would take for help to arrive or what kind of help they would be receiving. Thomas Patterson, a resident of Roosevelt quad originally from Loudonville, NY, said, “If I knew how long it would take, I wouldn’t have had like an anticipatory anxiety attack thinking like this could take an hour.”
According to students in the elevator, help arrived approximately twenty-five minutes later. Students reported that the elevator was poorly ventilated with no openings for air to come in. “I thought the girl in front of me was going to faint; she was having trouble breathing,” said Papamanolis. Patterson described the scene as overwhelming, saying, “The elevator was so cramped, it was hot and people started to take of their shoes and sit on the floor with little to no room to move.”
When the technicians opened the door at the basement level, students saw that the elevator had fallen a few feet below the basement floor. They had to climb up out of the elevator to get to the basement level.
Larry Twork, head of Elevator Maintenance at Stony Brook University, said that this was a case of “misuse” because there was thirteen people on the elevator whose combined weight exceeded the maximum load. Twork sought to reassure the campus about the elevators safety. He also said, “You may have a sensation that the elevator is dropping, but it’s actually not.” He said that the elevator actually only fell for a few feet but then the emergency break kicked in–preventing the elevator from violently crashing into the bottom of the shaft.
It’s unclear how long it takes for the emergency break to kick in, but students inside the elevator said they didn’t feel the elevator stop itself until they had fallen five stories.
Shindler Inc installed the elevators in the library in 1971 and they have not been replaced since. According to Twork, “Elevators don’t have to be replaced. They can last forever with the proper maintenance.” He said Stony Brook spends approximately 1 million dollars a year on elevator maintenance.
Twork is currently trying to determine the max load of the elevators in the library so that this doesn’t happen again. He is bringing in weights to test the elevators to determine whether or not they need to be replaced.
Two other elevators in the library are currently being replaced due to similar problems. The elevator that dropped five stories is currently still open for use after technicians determined that it was safe. However, it is still plagued by awkward up and down maneuvers every time it stops at a floor. This elevator is situated in a high traffic area and is in constant use throughout the day, making it likely that were it fundamentally faulty, this situation may repeat itself if the elevator is not repaired or replaced.
In the interim, the elevator is still running and it remains unclear whether or not the elevator is actually safe to use.