Time-lapse video of man trapped in an elevator for 41 hours

"Up and Then Down," Nick Paumgarten's New Yorker feature on elevators, is centered around Nicholas White’s ordeal of being trapped in an elevator for 41 hours after he left his office at Business Week to go downstairs for a cigarette. The article is accompanied by an extraordinary time-lapse video of White in his cage, rattling back and forth like a trapped insect:

At a certain point, he decided to open the doors. He pried them apart and held them open with his foot. He was presented with a cinder-block wall on which, perfectly centered, were scrawled three “13”s–one in chalk, one in red paint, one in black. It was a dispiriting sight. He concluded that he must be on the thirteenth floor, and that, this being an express elevator, there was no egress from the shaft anywhere for many stories up or down. (Such a shaft is known as a blind hoistway.) He peered down through the crack between the wall and the sill of the elevator and saw that it was very dark. He could make out some light at the bottom. It looked far away. A breeze blew up the shaft.

He started to call out. “Hello?” He tried cupping his hand to his mouth and yelled out some more. “Help! Is there anybody there? I’m stuck in an elevator!” He kept at it for a while.

Link, Link to article (via Kottke)


  1. I can’t remember when I have laughed so hard!!! Is this guy still around? Wonder what long term effects it had on him….oh and cannot get that 6feetunder episode out of my mind after watching this.

  2. #1. Agreed. I am amused the at the tortures that smokers must endure. I wonder if he still smokes…. I bet he does.

  3. Read the New Yorker article. It has a sad ending.

    “White never went back to work at the magazine. Caught up in media attention (which he shunned but thrilled to), prodded by friends, and perhaps provoked by overly solicitous overtures from McGraw-Hill, White fell under the sway of renown and grievance, and then that of the legal establishment. He got a lawyer, and came to believe that returning to work might signal a degree of mental fitness detrimental to litigation. Instead, he spent eight weeks in Anguilla. Eventually, Business Week had to let him go. The lawsuit he filed, for twenty-five million dollars, against the building’s management and the elevator-maintenance company, took four years. They settled for an amount that White is not allowed to disclose, but he will not contest that it was a low number, hardly six figures. He never learned why the elevator stopped; there was talk of a power dip, but nothing definite. Meanwhile, White no longer had his job, which he’d held for fifteen years, and lost all contact with his former colleagues. He lost his apartment, spent all his money, and searched, mostly in vain, for paying work. He is currently unemployed.”

  4. This makes me think long and hard about how human interaction keeps us sane. Without anyone to talk to or listen to, without any means of entertainment, it’s not unreasonable to think that people would go totally bonkers after a few days and lose whatever sense of self they had.

  5. #5) I agree about losing a sense of self, but some of us think that is a positive thing. Prolonged meditation retreats often last far more than a few days and sometimes include little or no interaction with other people.

  6. The article says he took a piss down the shaft while he had the doors propped open. You can kind of see it.

    Man, what an ordeal.

    Then, when he gets someone on the intercom it’s a security guard asking “What are you doing in there?”

    He rightly replies “Get me the FUCK OUT OF HERE.”

  7. Kinda reminds me of playing The Sims on 3-speed… only this guy never pees himself. Conclusion? Definitely a robot.

  8. I don’t care if I had to climb 90 floors up a cable, I would have got out. And I would have torn that elevator to pieces if I couldnt get out. I’d have ripped the ceiling and floors out, and if I didn’t find a hatch (do elevator usually have hatches?)
    I would make one. I have no fear of elevators or small spaces, I just can’t imagine waiting that long for someone to notice the stuck elevator.
    It’s also pretty stupid to pretend you’re mentally unfit to work and attempt to sue your employer for extravagant amounts. Anybody who thinks the legal system is there to help people retire early is a fool.

  9. #13-

    You weren’t there, man! You don’t know.

    The wind in the shaft…the echoes…I can still hear the echoes

  10. If you read the article, all elevators are required by law to have the emergency hatches bolted shut from the outside — they are for emergency responders to get in, not for you to get out. An elevator shaft is a remarkably dangerous place.

  11. Why didn’t security see him on the camera and let him out? In most office buildings, there’s security after hours and on weekends monitoring the elevator cameras.

  12. WOW!! that guy seems remarkably calm for the entire ordeal. As soon as I’d have gone without food for a day I’d be raging!

    Btw, between hours 11-20 it looked like there was some type of maintenance being performed on the other elevators, or at least in front of them with the doors propped open. it baffles me that no one would notice an elevator that isn’t moving that normally would or that no-one would have seen the security video of some guy in that particular elevator.

  13. I love how, at the end, they put up a little wooden sign on a stand in front of the doors. I imagine it says, in a nice italic script,

    ~ Please use caution ~
    ~ Elevator may hold you captive for days ~
    ~ The Management ~

  14. I didn’t find it funny at all, I found it horrifying. But then, I actually read the article first.

  15. #13, That’s BS. Read the article. It was a no exit shaft with him quite a ways up it. Unless you’re Chuck Norris, you aren’t climbing out of that elevator (and how are you going to get out without tools)?

    The real issue, as the article shows, is that EIGHT different security guards didn’t even notice a problem on the security feed. That feed of the elevators is human monitored (at least on a theoretical level) and no one noticed an issue for nearly two days.

    I have friends who need insulin, etc. who could easily have died in there.

  16. i really wish people would read the whole article before spouting off. he was convinced to sue.

    fantastic article, by the way.

  17. Here’s how a 25 million dollar lawsuit works. In the best case scenario, the court might award you half of that. You won’t see it for at least ten years, at which point your 12.5 million is worth ~ 8 million. The IRS gets 3 million. Your lawyers get 3 million. You get the equivalent of 2 million.

    I’ve known several people who have filed wrongful termination lawsuits. This is a pretty accurate description of the whittling-down process.

  18. no fire alarm I guess, no smoke/heat detector,no sprinkler… I bet if had lit up a doobie someone would have been there instantly

  19. This is a metaphor for individualism; “hello, is anybody there? hello?…i guess not…let’s see..i’m stuck in an elevator…how about masturbating to myself…”

  20. “You get the equivalent of 2 million.”

    and 41 hours of terror and suffering is worth about 100 grand plus medical expenses, tops.

  21. I had the same thing happen to me about 20 years ago. I was stuck for about 4 hours while my wife had called police, etc. I should’ve stuck the management company for the ordeal but I just took their offer for a nice dinner for my wife and I.

    Apparently I got caught in the weekend shutdown sequence (Friday night) where they’d shutoff some of the shafts. I was by myself, too. About 45 minutes after I was stuck (and constantly ringing the alarm), someone came on the intercom and asked what the problem was. Nothing happened after that and I never found out who I’d talked to.

    I was also stuck in the blind part of the shaft. I could push the doors open but there was only a concrete wall. I did get some satisfaction with being able to relieve my bladder on the wall.

    I was only able to get out a few hours later by yelling at the elevator passing by in the adjacent shaft. The riders told building security about hearing somebody yelling in the shaft. When they talked to me on the intercom again, that was the most anger I remember ever feeling.

    I’ve never really regretted not suing – some money would’ve been nice but, in the long view, the whole thing didn’t affect me much. A few months after that incident, the building changed management companies.

  22. I had a co-worker who was stuck in our office building’s elevator for about 40 minutes. She pressed the “Call Attendant” button and someone from the elevator maintenance company (not the building doorman) answered. The company’s records didn’t even show that they had a contract with the building. They came to rescue her, but she had to give them driving directions to get to the building! She was remarkably calm and didn’t sue anyone.

  23. I was trapped in an elevator for 10 hours or so…

    I had parked in a parking garage and went to the Town Pump in dtown Vancouver (NV LOC).

    After many beers and a hotdog I was off to the garage.

    I got in the elevator and pressed my floor (It was late, I was lazy). The door closed and the elevator moved to what seemed like half a floor and came to a complete halt.

    I looked at the little phone door and it was screwed shut! Well I was able to get the screw out with my car keys. I opened the door and there was only the wires for the phone.

    I pressed the bell, no luck. I yelled forever, no luck. There was no hatch to open anywhere.

    About an hour of trying everything I just sat down then tried to sleep. Weird that I never had to use the washroom…

    Anyway, the next day, Sunday, the elevator started moving around 11 in the morning.

    When the door opened the maintance worker that was standing right there almost had a heart attack! I told him what happened and said that he just happened to be in the area and desided to cheek the elevator. Most times they do their cheek on Monday.

    I got into my car and went straight to 7/11 for the orange gator aid that I dreamt about all night long.

  24. Don’t most 13th floors in sky-scrapers look exactly like the brick wall? that is, there are no 13th floors, express elevator or not.

  25. I’m appalled that some of you think this is funny. This video was incredibly sad. Try having some compassion and putting yourselves in someone else’s shoes for a while: being helpless, hungry, thirsty, bored, desperate, uncomforatable and trapped in a confined space and the light never goes out. Really thought I’d see a better response from some boingboing readers.

    My reaction to this video was sympathy. My reaction to the article (I only read the parts about Nicholas White) is that while I understand his reaction, I myself would have chosen a different path. I would not have given up my job, but I would have sued the building management.

    It’s like a Twilight Zone episode.

  26. Note to self: After two hours of stuck in elevator, crap down shaft. If they don’t smell it, crap some more later.

  27. #31 DSS902

    Dunno if I read it right, but it sounds like the faulty elevator could have saved your life, if you were going to drive to the 7/11 after ‘many beers’.. nice :)

  28. So, did he end up smoking in the elevator? I’ve worked a few places where they’d probably cite you for that even after 41 hours. Rules is rules.

  29. Try having some compassion

    Welcome to BoingBoing comments. Blame The Victim is our middle name. Unfortunately.

  30. please..we do not refer to the Sacrifice as the “victim”. Yes,yes, the harvest will be Good.

  31. I was visiting underground Atlanta (a kind of shopping mall thing) when I heard the elevator bell ringing in a hallway.. Nobody else noticed it. I went over to the elevator, pushed the button, the door opened.

    A disheveled man, quite relieved, stumbled out of the elevator. “I’ve been in there for over an hour!” he said. Again, this was a busy mall, lots of people, all of whom had ignored the elevator bell that the guy had been ringing for an hour.

    I don’t know why the door wouldn’t open, nor why my pressing the elevator button opened the door, but either way, it was a sad situation.

  32. i love it that it was not being stuck in an elevator for 41 hours that undid his life, but rather choosing to not go back to work, as it would have shown that he wasn’t suffering from the ordeal and would have reduced his $25 million claim.

    as it was, he hasn’t worked in years, spent all his savings, and got very little from the payout.

  33. Did you know that if the cables in an elevator snapped, there are enough safety precautions that even if it were on the top floor of a sky scraper, the passengers would survive the drop? Its only happened once, when a WWII bomber crashed into the empire state building, severing all the cables. But the woman inside survived. So point being i would rather that happened than what happened to this man, which would probably make my sit down and cry like a baby, after I ate my own leg in an hysterical fit of hunger panic.

    I was party to the info that there is no usable escape hatch, as I look for one every time I use a lift. Funny how they do that in films, because its not like, if there were escape hatches in the roofs of lifts, people wouldn’t notice.

  34. The video is a little deceptive. The hours fly by when he’s sleeping but when he’s doing something it slows down.

    What a horrible ordeal. I feel sorry for the guy. While reading the article I was thinking about how I would have sued for everything I could get but then I saw what happened. Cripes.

  35. 41 hours is a good head start on death by dehydration. He was just lucky that some dummy stumbled onto him. 25 Million is useless if you’re dead, and totally reasonable if you come out alive.

  36. 3 things.

    1. He went 41 hours without any water. Isn’t that at the limit of human endurance. I thought we couldn’t last 2 days without?

    2. He was in there for the best part of 2 days ansd at no point took a shit?

    3. These things have smoke detectors, why not have a cigarette and set of the smoke alarm. Folks would be there like a shot.

  37. oh also it is impossible to die when the cable of a lift is severed.

    They have inetia brakes on them.

    These are so simple that they can NOT fail.

    As soon as the speed downwards gets beyond a certain point the wedges slide under the wheels and bring the carriage to an abrupt stop.

    The most you can fall is a few meters.

  38. Do yourself a favor before commenting and actually read the 8-page article in THE NEW YORKER here:


    The article tells the guy’s story, and is interspaced with a lot of general information about elevators.

    He was trapped in a box with no way out, which was trapped in a shaft with no exits for many floors.

    Smoking did not set off alarms.

    There was no way he could get to the locked access hatch.

    It was an express elevator meaning there were no doors for many floors. Even if he had gotten to the top of the elevator, he could not have shinnied up the cable hundreds of feet. Even if he had, trying to get to a wall to pry open a door probably would result in a fatal fall.

    He has no watch, but picture yourself when you’ve been in an elevator 10, 20, 30 hours. You’ve still got 11 hours to go.

    Also, it’s not quiet, there’s an alarm ringing in the elevator, which after many hours was driving him berserk, so he disabled it.
    Of course, everyone can be a Monday-morning quarterback here.

    He must have assumed the security camera wasn’t working (and, as it turns out, 8 security guards came and went from the station and never noticed him on the camera), but, sure, maybe he could have written HELP ME with his own feces on the inner door.

    Except, propriety probably stopped him. Thinking your coworkers would be saying, “Dude, you wrote words with your own poop after a little night in an elevator, what are you, crazy?”

  39. Years ago, on a very windy night, DH and I went to the Empire State Bldg on a lark. The wind was whipping through all the elevator shafts; you could hear it whistling. And sometimes the eleevator would rock gently.

    There was almost no one there–late, and not a great day to be outside, bcs it was so windy.

    We were the only people on our elevator.

    As we were walking down the hall from the elevator to the observation platform, I thought, “huh, that elevator is rocking really a lot!”

    So I mentioned it; DH said, no, it’s just the wind. I don’t know why, but I went back the six paces and called out, “Is anyone in there?”

    There was a couple stuck in the elevator; it had gotten shifted off center by the wind, I guess, and stuck. I don’t know how long they’d been there, but the woman was pretty traumatized, and they just wanted to get downstairs.

    The security guards were really blase about the whole thing.

    I felt like a hero! I don’t know if anyone would have ever noticed? Or why there wasn’t an alarm, or why they hadn’t set it off. But I was really glad I listened to that little voice in the back of my head.

    I remember the story about the delivery man–I think his disappearance was reported, with him feared dead.

  40. I have friends who need insulin, etc. who could easily have died in there.

    I take your point, but just for the record, it takes weeks to die from lack of insulin, especially if you aren’t eating anything, such as when you’re trapped in an elevator. The dehydration would get you long before the lack of insulin.

    However, if you’d taken an insulin shot before you left your office, so it would be kicking in about the time you got back to your desk to sit down for a working dinner, then you’d really be up the creek. Convulsions in under two hours as your brain shut down from lack of glucose.

    Back in the day when torture was an alien horrifying thing that only happened in corrupt nations on other continents, I read about torturers using insulin injections for just that effect.

  41. I’ll mention as prologue that trespassing is not criminal under English law, so the following is not an admission of guilt to anything:

    There is a many storied building in central London that has been abandoned for many years. And the funny thing about it is there is an open fire escape on the first floor [so there is no breaking and entering involved]. Anyway, all the lights and appliances were stripped out, but someone is paying the power bill, because the lift still works. Walking throuh a dark abandoned building, hopping in a lift, and exiting on the top floor to the most beautiful view I have ever seen, is quite the experience, let me tell you, but the ride in the lift itself is long enough to completely freak you out. Always take the stairs, in old buildings, I think, is the answer.

  42. I wonder if he was happy or sad the lights didn’t go out like in the other elevators… I would have gone a little more mad perhaps with total darkness for so long.

  43. The fact that the “close door” button doesn’t actually do anything and is just for show really grinds my gears.

  44. Parts of this guy’s story truly trouble me: I can only imagine the horror of what he endured. His life was indeed in danger. If I were he, I absolutely would have gone to a lawyer. That’s the kind of psychological trauma that can cause real problems. But, that said…$25M??? Really??? I think he got a greedy lawyer, who made him greedy and after 4 years in litigation he got maybe $150k if I read the article right. In the meantime, he lived like he was going to get $25M. and ended up ruining his life.

    How about sue for 2.5M? Building management, 500k…elevator company, 500k, whoever was responsible for building security…since he is ON TAPE for the whole ordeal and nobody seemed to notice…1.5M!!! He was endangered and damaged by the gross negligence of these parties. The way I see it he settles for 1.75M and walks away with a new life. 25M…no way!

    It’s a horrible story, and I was initially upset that it ruined his life, but really I think he tried to get too much compensation for his very legitamate damage.

    Read The New Yorker article if you haven’t…it’s a facinating insight into both this poor fellow’s story, and the industry of elevators in general.

    And remember…this happened in 1999…now everyone has a cellphone, though it may not get service in an elevator shaft… Also, I think elevator emergency systems have improved since then.

    Very moving and interesting story.


  45. three and a half days?

    “Knowing his chances of survival were slim, Aron picked up his video camera and began recording messages that he hoped would be found after his death.

    Canyon tape: “My name is Aron Ralston. My parents are Donna and Larry Ralston of Englewood, Co. Whoever finds this, please make an attempt to get it to them. Be sure of it, I would appreciate it.”

    Five long days after becoming trapped, Aron lost hope…

    Ralston: “I’d taken the knife, and I’d etched into the wall the four letters of my name. Just to identify who this body that was here. And I etched, ‘October 75’ above my name. And I etched, ‘April ‘03’ below my name. And I wrote, ‘RIP’ right there.”

    Ralston had carved his own epitaph. His gravestone was Bluejohn’s majestic walls. He recorded his last message to his family, asking to be cremated, and instructing them where to spread his ashes. He prayed to God, and found peace. Aron was ready to accept death.

    Canyon tape: “So again love to everyone. Bring love and peace and happiness and beautiful lives into the world in my honor. Thank you. Love you.”

    On the morning of his final day trapped inside the canyon, Ralston knew what he had to do to survive. He had to cut off his arm that was pinned by the heavy boulder.

    That would be followed by a 65-foot rappel, and one more seemingly impossible task. With one arm, bleeding profusely, starved and dehydrated, close to shock, Ralston would have to hike seven miles out of the canyon in the direct midday sun. Then there would be an 800-foot vertical climb to the trailhead and his truck. The nearest hospital was a several hour drive.

    As he summoned his strength for the seven-mile hike that lay ahead, rescuers were converging near his truck, at the Horseshoe Canyon trailhead.”

  46. good for some I suppose.

    I remember attending a performance of Kodo. This was before I or any of mine had taiko drummed. During a particularly intense piece, where the sweat flew like bullets and the batchi blurred beyond vision, my mother-in-law heard the voice of her dead husband speaking to her.

    After this life, there is the Void. There is no time, no space, all things are infinitely far away and meet here.

    If some wish to leave word and say things, that is all good too.

    If you choose to, you can say what you will today.

  47. I’m just imagining everyone’s face if they realised they had to go on without me.

    funny how the boy could cry wolf like three times before the townsfolk stopped believing him, but you could really only fake your death the once before you lose credibility.

  48. Where’s the book?

    He works for Business Week, and the building is named McGraw-Hill, and the way to get some money was to sue? His friends and family should have advised him to take 2 days off, and go back to work. I’m not saying that suing was a bad idea, but staying away from work for 8 weeks, to increase the payout; you kind of understand why he might have trouble getting another job after that.

  49. Error404, did you not see him having to spray shit all over the elevator? There’s diarrhea all over his clothes…

  50. This man did not deserve to lose his job for someone else’s mistake. He should of been awarded a couple million just to insure the company sets protocol to stop this from happening again. 41 hours lucky the elevator wasn’t some what air tight

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