Do you remember the 1994 movie “Speed”? It was a high-concept action flick that boosted the careers of both Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock.
It had to do with a bus rigged to explode if its speedometer dropped below 50 miles per hour, but the scene I really remember involved a plunging elevator. Filled with passengers, the elevator falls toward the ground and screeches to a halt prior to impact.
The understandably terrified occupants wail to beat the band. And a police specialist listening over a surveillance microphone confusedly says, “Usually they fall down now.”
It’s a simultaneously tense and humorous scene, but there was nothing funny about a real-life equivalent that happened on Nov. 16. The site was 875 North Michigan Avenue, a Chicago skyscraper also known as the John Hancock Center.
According to CBS Chicago, the building is the fourth largest in the Windy City. And it became the site of a moment of intense horror for a group of visitors.
Jaime Montemayor, who was visiting from Mexico, said, “At the beginning, I believed we were going to die. 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, Maña Montemayor, told the Chicago Tribune, “I knew something wasn’t OK.” Only later would she learn that they had fallen from the building’s Signature Room on the 95th floor to the 11th floor.
The Montemayors weren’t the only ones in the elevator. There were four other people who suddenly found themselves trapped, including a pair of law students from Northwestern University.
Once it became obvious that the elevator wasn’t going to smash into the building’s basement, everyone “started freaking out,” one of the students said. Eventually, the Montemayors clutched each other and began to pray.
Soon others began to join in. Someone formed a prayer circle, and the prayers began to rise.
Unbeknown to the passengers, first responders didn’t have an easy way to reach them. Newsweek reported that Chicago Battalion Fire Chief Patrick Maloney said, “It was a precarious situation where we had the cable break on top of the elevator. (W)e couldn’t do an elevator-to-elevator rescue. We had to breach a wall.”
Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford added, “We don’t like to have to go through walls unless it’s absolutely necessary.
“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.”
The firefighters eventually made it through, although the Montemayors’ traveling friend Luis Vazquez found the situation astonishing. “This is the second most important building in Chicago and this is the third most important city in the United States?” he asked.
“In the 98 floors, they have no place to open any door? That is the craziest thing.”
Perhaps it was crazy. After almost three hours, though, all of the passengers made it safely out, and no one needed to go to the hospital.
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