Nine young Thai adults had a dreadful experience this weekend when what should have been an end of year celebration turned into a more than one hour ordeal, stuck in a small lift or elevator between floors in a condo building which housed restaurant and bars. The group had overloaded the elevator, but where left perplexed and frightened at the length of time they had to endure in a hot and claustrophobic atmosphere. They were lucky. Although Thailand has excellent and stringent regulations on lift and elevator safety, there have been a number of tragic deaths in recent years. Contributing factors include more and more condominium buildings and rising personal weights.

Trapped among nine people in a lift designed for eight that has stopped and locked itself into protection mode. This was how nine young adults in Bangkok spent a terrifying hour this weekend, while an attempt was made to rescue them. Finally, after the lights and air conditioning went out, the group launched a daring and quite dangerous, self rescue operation by climbing through a small opening at the top of the lift and reaching the floor above and safety. There have been a number of appalling deaths associated with lifts or elevators in Thailand, in recent years, including the 2015 death of a Swiss man in Phuket and the shockingly gruesome death of a Thai grandmother, in front of her granddaughter six years ago, as she attempted a similar self rescue, by opening the lift  door and crawling to safety.

Right: The view from the open doors of a lift in the Sanam Pao area of Bangkok this weekend as a frustrated young person, one of a group stuck in a small lift for over one hour, ponders what to do. Eventually, despite a rescue response and twenty minutes after the lights and electricity were cut, the group climbed through the roof of the elevator car and reached the next floor and safety. Left: A scene from 2015, at a Phuket hotel, where Thai police investigated the tragic death of a Swiss national, who was killed when he became trapped in a space between the lift and the elevator shaft. That accident occurred in the early hours of the morning and despite a swift response from the hotel and emergency services, the man was found expired after the doors were eventually opened by a mechanic. (Source: Facebook and Phuket News)

Many foreigners and visitors are familiar with such minor scares in Thailand. Thailand, in fact, has stringent and appropriate safety regulations, recently updated to ensure better lift or elevator safety. Given the numbers of lifts in operation, with more and more condominium buildings going up, the record is pretty good. But this weekend’s incident highlights a new potential problem, Thailand’s population is become more overweight with increased economic consumption. This leaves less of a margin for error when more people than are allowed, enter a lift space.

Nine Thai adults trapped in a Bangkok lift for over one hour eventually rescue themselves

Nine young Thai adults had a shocking experience this holiday weekend when they were left trapped in small lift for over an hour. The group tried a number times to contact security at the condominium building they were in, which also contains some public bars and restaurants, before eventually reaching someone at an emergency number. The incident occurred in the Sanam Pao area of the city. Although there was a response and they were urged to keep calm, by some people involved in the rescue, they had to wait one hour before they finally rescued themselves. To be fair, it should be understood that professional lift engineers or responders are obliged to follow correct procedures, when faced with such a situation, in order to avoid a tragedy caused by an error of judgment. It has been pointed out that, in this instance, the lift responded appropriately and as it was programmed to do, in a situation where it was overweighted.

Group was traumatised by the experience

The trauma of the incident prompted one of the young people,  a university graduate from Thammasat University, working in Bangkok, to post details on Facebook. The group got to safety eventually, by taking matters into their hands, inspired by a French movie and clambered out of the lift, helping each other escape after panic began to set in.  It worked for this group of people but in the past, even in Thailand, such attempts have resulted in tragic outcomes.

Bangkok celebration turns to shock as lift malfunctions

The party were out celebrating the end of the year together. They chose the building because it had a number or restaurants and bars on different levels. When they arrived, they encountered a large group of people waiting for a lift to the 5th floor. Their party decided to take the stairs but at the third level found themselves lost and consequently, pressed for lift. After they had filed into the small elevator, they hit the button to take them to the restaurant and bar at the 5th level. They immediately felt the small lift lurch downwards instead of going up. It stopped and remained motionless. Reaching for the emergency button to call for help, they realized, to their horror, that the button was broken. Some of the party, it transpired, knew the owners of the building. An attempt was made to call them but their was no response. Finally, they noticed an emergency number listed on the panel of the lift. They called but the number rang out. The only response came 20 minutes after this. Someone called back from the emergency line and were informed of the situation that had developed. They promised to call back but they did not.

Small group trapped in the lift begin to panic

At this point, the group really started to panic. Such situations are not uncommon in Bangkok, even in the most up market buildings, but the response is usually within 10 to 20 minutes, depending on whether the building has 24 hour security or supervision. It also depends very much on the size of elevator. This was a relatively small one and the group size was relatively large. The group began to make moves to get out of the small space. This is typically not advised. It is how accidents and tragedies can occur. There have been a small number of appalling deaths in the last decade, as more and more people use large buildings, both for living and for leisure.

Voice in the darkness said the lift was overloaded

The group began to try to open the doors of the elevator which they did and were confronted with a white wall. One person even stuck their head out to identify their position. They were near the 2nd floor of the building. The group began to call for assistance through the open door and shift. It is reported that they heard a voice in reply telling them to calm down. There are conflicting reports about the incident but it is clear that there was a response from either the building staff or those servicing the lift in order to rescue the nine people. They were informed that the lift had reacted to an overweight situation and had deliberately positioned itself in the 2nd floor position to allow the best possibility of rescue. This was, at least, reassuring.

Everything goes black for Bangkok end of year party group as electricity is shut off to elevator

Finally, after 40 minutes trapped in the lift, the electricity shut down, including the lighting and the air conditioning. The group waited twenty more agonizing minutes before deciding that they would have to take steps to rescue themselves. The found a confined opening through the top ceiling of the lift carriage. This was a very dangerous step to take but, luckily for the nine people, the lift did not power up again or resume operations as the groups assisted each other in their heroic self rescue. The nine survivors re emerged onto the 3rd floor where one report suggests a supply of water had been arranged.

Some of the nine people were overweight and this may have been a factor in the shut down

The nine people were informed later that the lift had stalled and actually functioned properly because it was overloaded. The capacity was eight people or 550 kg and this was clearly identified on the lift’s internal panel. However, some have responded that there was no indication or message to suggest this when the lift stopped. Some of group were also stinging in their criticism of the response to their predicament. However, it appears that the nine people in the lift simply found it impossible to wait for the lift service operators to rescue them. The cramped conditions, heat and lack of air were key factors. One of those in the lift has noted that many of the the people were quite overweight and it could point to a potential for further problems with small elevators as Thai people begin are getting heavier due to an improved economy and level of consumption in an emerging middle class.

More and more elevators being used in Thailand as the country has an increasing number of condominium buildings and urban population

This is not an isolated incident. As more and more condominium buildings are built in Bangkok, including many like this, with mixed use for retail and recreational purposes, as well as living accommodation, the use of elevators has grown. A number of tragic accidents have prompted local authorities and government agencies to tighten up on both maintenance requirements and the security response when it comes to lift malfunctions. Most of the accidents including, unfortunately deaths, tend to occur in older buildings with smaller lift systems. The new regulations in Thailand place heavy responsibilities on the owners of buildings to properly manage and maintain elevator systems with the possibility of criminal prosecution for manslaughter or gross negligence if accidents are shown to have occurred as a result of failure to carry this duty of care.

Swiss man killed in an accident at a Phuket hotel in 2015 as he stepped in the elevator shaft when the lift doors opened after lift failure

In 2015, a Swiss national was killed in Phuket while staying at a hotel in the popular tourist haven. He was found to have dropped to his death following the malfunction of a lift. The Swiss man’s body had become stuck between the wall of the lift shaft and the elevator itself. A  receptionist working at the hotel reported that she heard a sudden thump and then heard the Swiss man crying out for help. The accident occurred at the Baan Paradise Hotel in the Patpong area of Phuket, which is a building with 5 different floor levels. The accident occurred at the early hours of the morning. The receptionist told investigating Thai police that she heard the cry for help at 2.30 am. This alerted hotel staff, who went to rescue the guest. They found the lift stuck on the third floor and were unable to open the door.

Injured western man found trapped between the lift shaft and the elevator carriage itself

The hotel then called a rescue service operating in the area to help. Members of the group tried, but failed to open the door and reported that they could still hear the man’s voice calling out for help. Finally, a mechanic  did manage to wedge the doors open. They found the injured body of the Swiss man stuck between the lift carriage and the wall of the hotel’s lift shaft. He had expired.

Junior hotel staff member died in Phuket died in lift tragedy, one year later through misadventure

Thai police put forward a theory on how the tragic accident occurred, which took the life of the Swiss man, who was staying alone in the hotel. This was that that he accidentally stepped into the void of the lift shaft when the doors opened but the lift carriage had failed to arrive. A year later,  in the same area, a 32 year old junior staff member at a hotel was killed by a lift when he attempted to retrieve a lost item in the shaft area. This accident caused the young man to be crushed by a lift counterweight when a hotel guest activated the car. This accident was not due to negligence or malfunction but illustrates the danger of the devices.

Thai grandmother brutally killed by lift malfunction at Sukhumvit condo building in 2012

Six years ago, in the popular Sukhumvit area of Bangkok, a Thai grandmother was brutally killed by a lift in front of her young granddaughter as she tried, like the guests this weekend, to open a set of lift doors after the lift had stopped and malfunctioned. The woman had attempted to crawl out of the elevator to seek help. As she did so, the elevator began to move again. The woman was pulled apart by the force of the lift. The condominium building was never named but there were reports that the lift had malfunctioned quite often from residents at the building.

Thai law allows for compensation but the bar is set high – there is more common sense than in western countries when it comes to such incidents

Some qualified legal experts in Thailand have suggested that such incidents can give rise to claims of loss or personal compensation for trauma. In that instance, the young girl could have sued both for the loss of her grandmother and the undoubted personal trauma, including psychological damage inflicted on the little girl through negligence on behalf of the owners of the building concerned. However, it is unclear if the young people involved in the clearly traumatic incident this weekend may have such a recourse. For a start, it is not clear if the building owners were negligent as there appears to have been a controlled, if not professional, rescue response and ultimately, every person emerged from the lift. The lift itself, clearly specified that no more than eight people should use it with a weight limit of 550 kg specified. Courts in Thailand, in any event, adopt a more common sense approach to the law and payout or compensation awards are at lower level that western countries with a much higher bar for proving the basis for sic payments in the first place.

The key thing to take away from this is that foreigners should note the numbers using a lift on any occasion and the security or supervision services in any buildings they are staying or living in. Finally, there is duty of care on each individual to act with caution and care when it comes to service elevators. The penalty could well be loss of your own life or that of a loved one.