Chicago Firefighters Safely Rescue Riders After Skyscraper Elevator Falls 84 Floors

The John Hancock Center, seen here in 2007.
The John Hancock Center, seen here in 2007.
Photo: M. Spencer Green (AP)

An express elevator in a Chicago building formerly called the John Hancock Center until earlier this year, the 100-story tower at 875 North Michigan Avenue that is the fourth-tallest skyscraper in the city, fell from the Signature Room restaurant on its 95th floor all the way down to the 11th on Nov. 16th due to a “broken hoist rope,” CBS News reported on Monday.


Modern elevator cars are equipped with several hoist ropes, so the car fortunately did not plummet at high speed into the bottom of the shaft, and no one was injured or hospitalized as a result. But CBS News reported those in the elevator believed their deaths were imminent as the car began to slide down the shaft:

Visiting from Mexico, Jaime Montemayor didn’t expect his trip to Chicago to include getting stuck in an elevator.

“At the beginning I believed we were going to die,” Montemayor said. “We were going down and then I felt that we were falling down and then I heard a noise–clack clack clack clack clack clack.”

His wife, Mana Castillo, said the elevator was moving fast and suddenly a material that looked like dust started filtrating into the elevator.She said they found out later that they had careened from the 95th floor down to the 11th floor.

CBS News added that because it was an express elevator, there was no door for rescuers to open on the 11th floor, and an elevator-to-elevator rescue was impossible because the car’s stability was compromised. Instead, firefighters broke open a hole in the concrete wall adjacent to the car.

According to USA Today, authorities say the rescue took almost three hours to pull off. The Chicago Tribune reported:

The first fire crews on the scene had checked the building’s electronic system to get “a rough idea” of where the elevator was — somewhere near the 11th floor of a parking garage, Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said. They drilled a small hole in the concrete wall and inserted a tiny camera on a “goose neck” wire to look around and find exactly where it was, Langford said. “Once they did that, they knew which walls to break.”

... “They put struts up to make sure it can’t drop anymore, if anything were to happen,” Langford said... “The only other way to get to the elevator would have been ropes from the 97th floor, and that would not be safe. We don’t come down like Batman so we must go through the wall.”

City Buildings Department spokesman Gregg Cunningham told the Tribune, “That rope is one of several that are connected to the elevator, and, even with this one failing, there’s a redundancy in place. Specifics of how it failed, and what type of failure, is still under investigation.”

Luis Vazquez, a civil engineer from Mexico City and a friend of passenger Jaime Montemayor, told the Tribune, “This is the second-most important building in Chicago? And this is the third-most important city in the United States? In the 98 floors, they have no place to open any door? That is the craziest thing.”


The incident is under investigation, though USA Today reported the elevator in question had passed an annual inspection in July 2018.

Correction: The incident took place on Nov. 16th, not 17th. We regret the error.

[CBS News/Chicago Tribune]


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In the 98 floors, they have no place to open any door?

As a lay person, that struck me as rather bizarre as well. Is this typical of express elevators?