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Monday, 18 December 2017

Trapped in the lift at a light rail station in Pyrmont

Yesterday at about 10am I decided to go to Chinatown and have yum cha and because it looked like it might rain I headed out to the light rail stop at John Street Square. I got in the lift to take me down to the platform and it started to move down in the shaft but with a juddering rhythm that shook the entire gondola. Then the lift stopped. I pressed the emergency button and there was an audible buzz but then nothing happened. I was dumbstruck and afraid. These lifts are frequently signed as being out of order but you never expect to get stuck in one. I tried pressing the button for the platform floor again but the lift didn’t move, so I got out my phone and saw it had two bars of signal. I called triple-zero.

When the phone was answered they asked me whether I wanted police, ambulance or fire. I told the operator I was stuck in a lift and they put me through to the police. It took a while to tell the next operator where the lift was but they said there would be someone arriving soon. They asked me how old I was and whether I had any medical conditions. I told the operator I had a diagnosed mental health issue and that I took tablets for high blood pressure.

Within five minutes – or it may have been shorter, it was hard to keep track of time inside the hot, enclosed space – I could hear a siren. Then there was a mechanical sound as the exterior doors of the lift were manually prised open. A voice called out to me and I answered. It was a male voice. The man asked me if I was ok, and I said I was. He said other things but I couldn’t really hear very clearly. The voice went silent then. Time passed while my mind wandered. Random thoughts mingled with a sense of panic. I thought how odd it would be to die in a lift shaft on the mere occasion of a trip to get some Chinese food. I thought that my daughter would find out I had died. I thought about the little, skittish flies that have started to appear in my bathroom and living room. (I had sprayed them several times but they seemed to be immune to fly spray.)

I tweeted that I was stuck in a lift. Occasionally, the male voice could be heard calling something out but I had to answer again that I couldn’t really hear what was being said. “We’ll get you out soon,” it said before going silent again. I started to feel light-headed and thought I might either fall over or vomit. The mechanism in the ceiling of the lift that circulated air was still running: I could hear the sound of the motor above my head.

I called triple-zero again because of the light-headedness and had to take the operator through the steps so that she could identify where I was. We finally got to where I needed to tell the police that oxygen in the lift was getting low and that I was feeling light-headed. The operator took down the information. I hung up. I knelt down because I was worried about falling over, then I stood again but kept a hand on the rail inside the lift. I opened the inner doors of the lift to expose the metal-clad shaft because I wanted more air. I let the doors close again and stood back at the middle of the lift. I could still hear occasional noises as the police tried to access the lift. I checked Twitter and saw that someone had responded to my tweet: “Ugh, I fear that sort of thing. I hope you get out soon.” The noises above me in the shaft became more complicated and then I could hear what seemed to be someone stepping on the roof of the lift. Then a panel in the ceiling slid back to reveal the dark shaft.


The male voice was right outside the lift now and he asked me if I was ok. I said I was. A ladder made from aluminium was inserted into the gap in the ceiling. It had some black fabric cords attached to it and it entered the lift until it reached the floor. The man manoeuvred the ladder until it was correctly positioned and he asked me if I was ok to climb it. I said I was. He told me to come up.

I started climbing the ladder although I worried that it might slip and would fall. My shirt was dark with sweat by this time. I emerged so that my head and torso were outside the lift and the policeman wearing white overalls put a rope harness around under my arms, for safety. He told me to keep coming up the ladder, although the opening was tight against my stomach and my belt at the front caught briefly against the rung of the ladder. I stepped up the last two rungs and then onto the top of the gondola, placing my feet carefully. Turning to my left to face the reverse direction, as instructed, I started to climb a second ladder which took me to the door of the lift in the basement of the building. I was fearful that the last part of the climb would be impossible because the top of the ladder didn’t go all the way up to the lip of the entryway. Then strong arms reached down and lifted me wholesale over the concrete lip onto the parking lot floor, and then even though I was trying to stand by myself they hoisted me up to my feet. I was told to sit down and rest on a red bench where there was space amid the paraphernalia.

There were half-a-dozen police in white overalls and in uniform, and two paramedics. One of the paramedics came up to me and suggested I go outside into the fresh air. I walked to the right and up a short flight of steps to emerge onto the street. An ambulance was parked by the kerb, along with a police van and a police emergency services truck. A paramedic opened a bottle of water and gave it to me and the other one told me to get into the ambulance, and I sat down on a padded seat inside. I thought that if someone asked me to talk to them I would start crying. I was trembling and emotional and overwrought.

The paramedics were named Alex and Andy. One of them sat down inside the ambulance next to me and placed a sensor enclosed in a rubber cap over the end of the index finger of my left hand. I fidgeted with the cap while I sat there, recovering my composure. A female police officer in uniform was standing outside the ambulance with a pad and a pen. She asked me my name and I told her. She wrote in her pad. The ambo in the front seat – who was older than the one next to me, and had a moustache and goatee – asked me my date of birth. I told him. The policewoman wrote it down. Then he asked me my address and I gave all these details. She wrote them down. The ambo next to me, the younger one, put a flat band around my arm and took my blood pressure, which was up a bit at 130 over 100. Then he opened a small flat packet and took out a sampling strip, which he put into a small dark device with an LED screen on the front. He stuck a Band-Aid onto the front of the device, then took the heart-rate sensor off my finger. He placed a small instrument against the pad of the index finger of my left hand and told me there would be a prick. He pressed a button on the instrument and I could feel my skin being pierced. It felt like someone had tapped me. He then applied the sampling strip in the dark device to the round drop of blood that gathered on the end of my finger. This was to test oxygen levels. When he had finished with the device he put the Band-Aid on the end of my finger.

The ambo in the front seat told me that you cannot lose consciousness from lack of oxygen in lifts because they are not air-tight. He said the light-headedness was likely caused by panic. He also told me that it is rare for lifts to entirely collapse because even if a cable snaps they have “another seven” breaking systems installed to prevent them falling if the mechanism fails – as it had done yesterday. I told him I would never use that lift again and he said with a smile that he didn’t blame me. He talked to me for a while longer and then he got me to sign a form to say that I had not wanted to be taken to hospital. He asked me if I wanted to be driven home but I said it was ok. He told me to get some food – but to stay out of the light rail station lifts – and then go home. 

I carefully stepped down out of the ambulance and walked down the street where I saw the representative from the lift company putting money in a parking meter located on the pavement. His car was parked at the kerb and he was wearing a monogrammed, short-sleeved, light-blue shirt. I tweeted as I walked along, “Police rescue got me out after about 15 minutes and paramedics gave me a check up.” “Glad to hear that you are out and ok,” said the same tweeter. I went and ordered a pork banh-mi with chilli. When it arrived I ate it walking back up the street. I got to the lift in the lobby of my apartment building and my feet were positioned wrongly so I had to reach out further than usual with my hand to hit the button to call it. Something interfered with my spacial instincts and my natural ability to move. I thought it would be highly ironic to get stuck in two different lifts on one day.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That sounds awful. I was stuck in a lift at Melbourne Central Station, but it was just stalled on the ground floor without actually moving anywhere. Multiple people came along, peered at me through the little window in the lift door and told me to "Stay there". As if!!!! If those doors had miraculously opened, I would have been off like a shot.