In the movies falling elevators aren't rare. However, given that elevators are protected by safety devices, is it even possible for elevator to fall?
There are examples of elevators falling with fatal consequences
On the night of May 22, 1903, in Pittsburgh, PA, a large group of mostly young people who attended the Pennsylvania Electric Mechanical Institute were having a celebration party on the fifth and sixth floors of the Donnelley building. About 700 people packed the two floors for the ball, and at around 10 PM another group of seventeen passengers was loaded into the elevator on the first floor, bound for the party on floor six. Just as the elevator reached the floor, it suddenly let go and fell six stories, crashing into the elevator pit. The multi-ton elevator cable and assembly came crashing down onto the elevator, crushing the occupants. When the party goers heard the crash, they rushed to the elevator. In the panic, some nearly fell into the open shaft. Four bodies were pulled from the rubble and taken to a morgue. They were so badly mangled it was not until the next day they could be identified. So mangled were the bodies, they could only be identified by the cloths they were wearing. The others in the elevator, the youngest being only 3 years old, somehow survived. The accident was blamed on overloading of the elevator with 17 people when the maximum weight allowed for only 10-12.
Also described in Pittsbugh Donnelly Elevator Accident 1903
Reports attributed to
- Weekly Sentinel, Fort Wayne, IN, 27 May 1903
- The Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta, GA 24 May 1903
A late-night party at Gramercy Park Hotel in New York City for indie film "Janie Jones" last Thursday turned into a horror flick for 14 people - including the movie's star and director, the New York Post, New York magazine and others report.
Party goers had packed into the elevator on the hotel's rooftop terrace and then made one more stop on another floor, when the elevator went into free fall - with the door partially open.
It plunged eight stories before the emergency brakes stopped it, the stories say.
Elevators do have many safety devices, however maintenance workers will sometimes disable them to facilitate their work.
Suzanne Hart's Midtown Elevator Death Due To Disabled Safety Device - Huff Post, New York, October 30, 2012
Elevator Work Blamed in Death of Suzanne Hart - New York Times January 23, 2012
It seems possible that, in recent decades, being crushed or decapitated in an elevator doorway by unexpected elevator motion is more likely than dying in a falling elevator car.
For probably the longest such fall, look to the 1945 crash of a B-25 bomber into the Empire State Building...
Elevator operator Betty Lou Oliver was injured. Rescuers decided to transport her on an elevator that they did not know had weakened cables. The cables snapped and the elevator fell 75 stories, ending up in the basements. She managed to survive the fall, which still stands as the Guinness World Record for the longest survived elevator fall, and was later found by rescue workers among the rubble