Saturday, August 26, 2006
Elevator: The Silent Killer
Despite some of the perks of life here in Switzerland, I have issues with my means of being here. Namely, the hours between 8 and 5 (who am I kidding, 9:30 to 5) where I have to both make a living and entertain myself enough to keep from putting a No.2 pencil in my ear.
To accomplish the latter, I find myself quite frequently satisfying my curiosities with a quick click to Wikipedia. Not only does it provide me with a dose of entertainment and a dab of self-improvement, it allows me to support fellow Alabamian-turned-options-trader-turned- WikimediaCEO, Jimmy Wales.
Figuring that others may be interested in some of the factual minutae, I've decided to blog my findings.
So, without further ado:
In my recent drive to gain a level of spoken proficiency in German, I've been turning to a that well-worn source of self-improvement, television. Despite frustrating the hell out of me because I realize how more I have to learn to actually get anything out of German TV, there are a lot of really interesting shows to pique one's interest. This is particularly true since my dad has been here. He regularly dines on healthy array of engineering shows on the SF2 (swiss german) and VOX (german) channels.
So this fine Saturday morning, we start watching a show about elevators. Straining to hear under the German voice over (so Ok, I cheat), I manage to catch enough of the under-English to see that he's talking about Elevator safety features, which is then followed by a series of newspaper headlines depicting various elevator tragedies.
This struck me as odd. I remembered an engineer (or more likely a Otis saleswoman) I met on an elevator ride, who told me it was impossible for an elevator to fall down a shaft like in the movies. For this absolute safety, we had to thank some counterweight device (and the provenance of the manufacturer, no doubt) that would prevent a fall even in the event that the cable was completely severed. Based on her reassurance, I've never feared that I might plummet to an early death just because I was too lazy to take the stairs.
It turns out, not only are elevators able of falling down the shaft ("Toronto - five people receive broken ankles and other minor injuries, as an Otis parking garage hydraulic elevator in a National Life building on University Avenue plummets five floors"), they are capable of much more disturbing things:
Michigan 1999. Woman age 56 on gurney became lodged between elevator car and shaft wall and dragged four floors.
Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan, June 2006 - a 16-year old high school student was killed as he was backing out of an elevator with his bicycle when the elevator suddenly rose with the doors still open, crushing his skull.
Texas, August 16, 2003. Decapitation of doctor in old Otis made elevator.  Internal investigation concluded that a wire in an electrical panel was incorrectly connected. Kone, Inc., which had recently been servicing the elevator was later dismissed.
The Bronx, New York, January 6, 1995. Runaway elevator in office building decapitated 55-year-old James Chenault as he tried to help fellow passengers out of a malfunctioning car. 
Hmm. This was a little dark. I'll try to keep the remaining one's a little more lighthearted.
See the new section "Post-Graduate studies" for additional Wikipedia articles and other curiosities.