Stuck in a lift... with nine people

By Vaughan Elder

A relieved woman embraced one of her rescuers as she stepped out of a malfunctioning lift in which nine people had been trapped.

Octagon Dental Suite dental technician Libby Shepherd hugged Willowbank fire station officer Brent Key as she emerged from the lift in Burns House, Dunedin, on Thursday.

The group was trapped for 45 minutes.

Ms Shepherd, who was shaking, said her worst fear was the lift would drop six floors to the ground.

People in the back of the lift were "pretty sweaty" and the walls were covered in condensation by the time they left.

There was genuine fear in the lift, but they got through by making jokes, she said.

Getting out of the lift was the "best feeling ever".

"I've never been so happy to see someone before and I'll never be taking the lift again. I'm on the seventh floor, but it's OK."

What started as a Fire Service callout on Thursday afternoon when burnt toast set off an alarm in the George St building turned into a rescue operation.

When nine people packed into the lift following an all-clear, it malfunctioned.

Firefighters trying to open the lift. Photo: Gerard O'Brien / Otago Daily Times
Firefighters trying to open the lift. Photo: Gerard O'Brien / Otago Daily Times

Firefighters exhausted all options to try to force the sixth-floor lift door open.

It would not budge until an Otis lift technician arrived. The hot and bothered lift occupants were freed about 4.30pm. Mr Key said it was worth damaging the lift slightly to rescue the occupants.

"They needed some fresh air in there. We sensed that a couple of them were uncomfortable, so that was the reason we tried to get the door open as far as we could," he said.

Firefighters then offered water to the occupants.

As she was rescued Libby said: "I've never been so happy to see someone before." Photo: Gerard O'Brien / Otago Daily Times
As she was rescued Libby said: "I've never been so happy to see someone before." Photo: Gerard O'Brien / Otago Daily Times

It was only after the Otis technician arrived that firefighters learnt the internal lift door needed to close before the outside door on the sixth floor would open.

"It was a new experience for all of us."

Lift rescues were not common in Dunedin, and firefighters would be better equipped next time, Mr Key said.

Pure relief as the group are rescued. Photo / Gerard O'Brien / Otago Daily Times
Pure relief as the group are rescued. Photo / Gerard O'Brien / Otago Daily Times

- Otago Daily Times

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