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Can You Survive in a Falling Elevator?

Two elevators in a high rise building

Elevators are used in lots of buildings, but particularly in high-rise buildings with lots of floors. They’re considered to be one of the safest forms of transportation, even safer than escalators.

But the thought of being trapped in a falling elevator is a completely terrifying prospect, and accidents can happen. We’re going to look at the main causes of falling elevators, the safety measures that are in place to prevent them, and what you should do in an emergency.

Is it possible to survive in a falling elevator? Let’s find out.

What causes elevators to fall?

There are lots of things that can cause an elevator to fall, including:

  • Human error
  • Mechanical failure
  • Power outages
  • Natural disasters

People can make mistakes, but a falling elevator is more likely to be caused by factors that can’t be controlled, like a power failure or natural disaster. If the power goes out, the elevator may not operate properly. 

Equally, if there’s an earthquake, flood, or other natural disaster, the event could cause damage to the elevator and its infrastructure, leading to a fall.

Can you survive in a falling elevator?

It’s possible to survive in a falling elevator, but it really depends on the situation. Modern elevators are built to fall within a certain range without harming the people inside. 

But if the elevator were to fall from a great height or the safety systems were to fail, then the outcome could be fatal.

So, if you do find yourself in a falling elevator, it’s essential to stay calm and try to brace yourself for impact.

How can you survive in a falling elevator?

It’s thought that your best chances of surviving in a falling elevator are if you crouch down and brace for impact. Be sure to cover your head and neck with your hands or arms. 

You could lie on your back and spread out to spread the impact of hitting the ground across your body, but you’re also likely to sustain more injuries. As your head will be against the ground, you’d be at a higher risk of a serious head injury or brain damage. 

Some people say that you should stand with your legs bent like a skydiver bracing for impact, but this may not be the best idea either. You’re likely to add extra strain on your knees and possibly even break multiple bones in your legs. 

All of these scenarios are only even remotely useful if your body isn’t freefalling in the elevator. This would make it much more difficult to brace yourself in any position. It also depends on if the elevator remains intact once it collides with the ground. 

So really, whether or not you’d survive in a falling elevator is circumstantial.

What should I do in a falling elevator?

If you’re ever in an elevator and it suddenly starts to plummet to the ground, you’re not going to have much time to think, so every second counts. Here’s what you should do in this situation:

  1. If you can spot an emergency stop button, try to press it
  2. If you can, use your body to brace for impact
  3. Crouch down and cover your head and neck with your hands or arms
  4. Do not try to exit the elevator when you stop, wait for the emergency services

What safety measures do elevators have?

Modern elevators are built with safety in mind as a number one priority. This is why they include different features like brakes, emergency power systems, and emergency communication systems. All of these precautions are in place in case of an emergency. 

Here’s some extra information about safety measures in elevators:

  • Over-speed governors – These are mechanical devices that will stop automatically if an elevator reaches a certain speed.
  • Emergency brakes – These are activated if the elevator cables break or the elevator gets too fast.
  • Emergency lighting – This will be activated if the power fails.
  • Emergency communication – Typically a two-way system that allows passengers to contact someone in the event of an emergency.
  • Safety edges – These are sensors underneath the elevator that can detect an obstruction and make the elevator stop,
  • Emergency power – Elevators usually have an independent power supply to ensure they can still operate if there’s a power failure.
  • Load cells – These are devices that will measure the weight of the elevator and its passengers that stop the elevator from moving if it’s overloaded.

Has anyone died in a falling elevator? 

Unfortunately, there have been times where people have died in falling elevators. But though it can happen, it’s highly unlikely. Elevator accidents are very rare, but when they do occur, the event can be fatal. 

Some people have died due to an elevator falling or the impact of the fall. Others have died in elevator accidents due to causes like smoke inhalation in a fire. But thankfully, it’s very rare for either of these things to happen. Elevators are built to withstand significant forces and are designed with various safety features to prevent injury or death if one were to fall.

How Often Do Elevators Fall?

It’s extremely rare for an elevator to fall, so the vast majority of elevator trips are more than safe.

According to data from the National Elevator Industry, the chances of an elevator falling are around 1 in 10 billion. Plus, your chance of being in an elevator accident in general is only 1 in 100 million trips.

Do elevators have panic buttons?

Yes, elevators do have panic buttons or emergency stop buttons that you can use if you find yourself in an emergency. You can usually find this button in a prominent and accessible location, usually near the control panel or on the wall of the elevator. If you press the button, the elevator should stop and alert the emergency services.

Are elevators safer than escalators?

You might not think so, but elevators are actually considered safer than escalators. The number of people that have died in falling elevators is low. You’re probably more likely to injure yourself falling on an escalator. 

According to the New Yorker, there are twenty times more elevators than escalators, yet there have only been a third more accidents. It’s also safer to get into an elevator than it would be to drive your car. 

On average, 26 people die in elevators each year in the United States, mostly people that are paid to work on them. 26 people die in car-related deaths every 5 hours. 

How Safe Are Elevators?

Elevators are extremely safe due to the fact that they’re heavily regulated and inspected. They’re also designed with multiple safety features and backup systems that will minimize the risk of them falling. And of course, the safety of an elevator is a top priority of the industry and government agencies that regulate them.

Can You Survive in a Falling Elevator By Jumping?

The idea that you can survive in an elevator by jumping is a myth. It would make an amazing story to tell, but it’s just not very plausible.

It would be highly unlikely that you would jump at the exact moment the elevator makes contact with the ground. Especially as you can’t actually see outside of the elevator to know when you’re about to make contact.

Even if you could somehow see the ground, the chances of you jumping at precisely the right moment and completely missing the impact are slim to none. The best you would likely achieve is hitting your head on the top of the elevator and landing awkwardly, causing more damage.

Surviving a Falling Elevator Real Story

One instance of an elevator that fell due to a snapped cable occurred on July 28 1945. On this day, a B25 bomber crashed into the Empire State building. This resulted in the cables of two elevators being severed.

Unfortunately, one of the elevators had a woman called Betty Lou Oliver inside of it. 

At 20 years old, Betty worked at the Empire State Building as an elevator attendant. It seemed like any other day, but the foggy conditions outside led Captain William smith to crash his plane between the 78th and 80th floors of the Empire state Building, the tallest building in the world at the time.

Smith, two crew members on the plane, and 11 people in the building died. Betty Lou Oliver was working on the 80th floor at the time and the crash had thrown her out of her elevator.

She suffered severe burns as well as a broken pelvis, back, and beck. Though her injuries were bad, it was clear she would survive. First aiders got her into an elevator so she could go down to the ground floor.

But little did they know, the elevator cables had been weakened by the crash. As soon as they placed Betty inside, the cables snapped and the elevator was left hurtling towards the ground. 

The elevator, with Betty inside, fell around 100 feet through 75 stories of the building. The chances of surviving the ordeal wouldn’t have been high. But miraculously, she lived to tell the tale. 

The 1000 feet of cable had fallen below the elevator before it hit the ground, which lessened the impact.

Betty suffered further serious injuries from the fall and it took eight months for her to fully recover fully. After beating death twice that day, she went on to live to the age of 74. 

After the incident, Betty’s name was added to the Guinness Book of Records for the longest survived elevator fall. This is a record that she still holds today.