No-no-no-no, not again. Come on, open up. Please. What’s this? Oh noooo-o-o-o.
Not every elevator ride ends up like this. In fact, elevators have a fatality rate of 0.00000015% per trip.
But when the steel doors close, and seal you inside one square meter of space, you might find yourself picturing the worst case scenario. How can you survive a falling elevator, if it comes to that?
This is an average office building elevator. It works a regular week of 10 hours a day and makes 400,000 trips per year. Pretty hard-working.
If you work in an office, you’re likely to take about eight elevator rides a day. You spend quite a bit of time with this guy. But I bet you wouldn’t want to spend anymore time than it takes to get to your destination.
Getting stuck in an elevator is unpleasant. It happens about 1 in 5,000 rides a month.
Finding yourself in a free-falling elevator is quite rare. But if, by fluke, it happens to you, what should you do?
Can you save yourself by jumping up in the air? Before we get to your survival strategy, let me take you behind-the-scenes of an elevator.
What makes it so safe? Let’s see. Modern elevators feature a variety of safety backups like multiple safety cables. Even if by some very unfortunate accident the motor fails and absolutely all metal cables fall down, the electromagnetic brakes will activate and stop the elevator from plunging to the ground floor.
But let’s imagine the worst possible case. The elevator is falling. There are no ropes, no brakes, the car is moving too fast towards the ground, and you’re stuck inside.
You have only a couple seconds to decide. Should you..
b. Brace yourself
c. Lie flat on the floor
If you chose to jump, you’re probably dead. Theoretically, if you jump at just the right moment as the elevator is hitting the floor, you slow down the speed of your fall, and that gives you a soft landing.
But chances that you could make it work are slim. Not only is pushing yourself off the floor of a falling elevator hard, you won’t slow down significantly unless you’re jumping very fast.
Maybe you chose to brace yourself? Well, sorry, you’re most likely dead as well. When the elevator hits the bottom of the shaft, your body will seem much heavier, depending on the length of your ride to the bottom. That’s because gravity makes the elevator accelerate during a fall.
And because you become so heavy at the time of the impact, your legs won’t be able to support your body. Even your own head would seem too heavy for your neck to hold up.
Your best chance is to lie down with the chubbiest side of you on the floor and make sure to protect your head.
That will distribute the force of the impact all over your body. Plus, the bottom pad of the elevator shaft would help reduce the impact.
Survival is possible. In 1945, when a bomber hit the Empire State Building, one woman happened to be in an elevator. She plummeted 75 floors to the basement and got out of there with a few broken bones.
But if you feel anxious, just take the stairs.
- “Are elevators really hazardous to your health?”. Kaplan, Karen, 2011. latimes.com. Accessed March 23 2019.
- “What Is The Best Option In A Free-Falling Elevator?”. Ray, C. 2014. nytimes.com. Accessed March 23 2019.
- “How To Survive An Elevator Free Fall”. Gerbis, Nicholas, 2011. Live Science. Accessed March 23 2019.
- “Worst-Case Scenarios: How To Survive In A Plummeting Elevator”. 2004. Popular Mechanics. Accessed March 23 2019.
- “Betty Lou Oliver Survived Two Major Accidents The Same Day”. 2014. Stories Of Survival, Heroism & Bravery. Accessed March 23 2019.
- “Could You Survive A Falling Elevator?”. 2019. Youtube. Accessed March 23 2019.
- “NPR Choice Page”. 2019. npr.org. Accessed March 23 2019.