Cab No. 27, a high-speed elevator that services the 44th through 54th floors of the TD Bank Tower, was rocketing skyward yesterday morning with eight passengers on board when it suddenly stopped.
It was shortly after 8:30 a.m. and the wood-panelled car and the eight people on board had become stuck between the 42nd and 43rd floors.
The passengers, mostly secretaries, managers and lawyers with McCarthy Tétrault LLP law firm, were unhurt. Crammed within a box about two-and-a-half metres cubed, bathed in pinkish light, most of the passengers turned to their cellphones and BlackBerrys, which they used to call for help and send e-mails to co-workers.
Perhaps they watched a small monitor installed in the tower elevator, which displays weather forecasts, stock quotes and advertisements.
Soon after the elevator became stuck, an elevator technician with nine years experience with Otis Elevator came to their aid.
It remains unclear what went wrong, but around 9 a.m., the technician, Andrew Hill, fell to his death.
Mr. Hill, 43, a devoted father to five daughters, was pronounced dead at the scene.
For more than five hours, as the removal of Mr. Hill's body unfolded beneath them, the passengers remained trapped in the dangling elevator.
As workers poured from the top floors and flooded to the tower's underground shopping pavilion, police and security guards draped black curtains around the base of the elevator embankment.
By 2 p.m., a small group of people had gathered near the elevators. Two women appeared to be very distressed and held each other while dabbing their eyes with tissues.
A group of Otis employees huddled together with them and exchanged hugs as they anxiously peered through a small crack between curtains.
"Yeah it was one of our guys doing the work," said one, who did not want his name used. "It's been a rough morning."
Moments later, firefighters carried a gurney behind the dark curtains, which formed a corridor leading to a service elevator.
The elevator had become stranded in a part of the shaft where there are no doors. About 2 p.m. it made a modest ascent, and the passengers were able to exit on one of the building's uppermost floors.
"They were met by people from our firm and met by people from Cadillac Fairview, the building manager. And then they were simply urged to go home," said Darryl A. Cruz, a partner with McCarthy Tétrault who saw the passengers after they emerged from the elevator.
Bruce Domoney, a bike courier with the Parss company, said one of his colleagues who was delivering a package was among those trapped on the elevator.
"He's really shook up," Mr. Domoney said.
Mr. Hill's family gathered at his home in Stouffille.
"He was totally dedicated to his family," said his mother-in-law, Pam Goulbourne. "He was a family man."
Mr. Hill had children young - his oldest, Alix, is 25 and his youngest, Ashlie, 11 - and moved to Stouffville with his wife, Lisa, 15 years ago. He loved visiting his cottage in Muskoka, boating and getting outside - "anything you can think of outdoors, he did," Ms. Goulbourne said.
"He was probably the best 43-year-old man I knew of walking the face of the Earth," she said. "He was just very kind and generous and compassionate and even-tempered and very, very good to his family."
The Newmarket native had worked in Toronto for Otis Canada for the past decade, and loved his job, Ms. Goulbourne said.
"He enjoyed his work, he enjoyed his co-workers. He had lots of respect for the people that he worked with."
A broken cable offered an early clue as to what went wrong, said Fire Department division chief Lorne Buckingham. But how and why Mr. Hill came to fall while trying to make repairs was unclear, Mr. Buckingham said.
Nor did officials immediately say how far the man fell.
While the elevator shaft runs the full height of the building, a second elevator runs alongside the first, and a report said the repairman fell 10 storeys - around 30 metres - before landing on top of it.
With files from Jill Colvin and Anna Mehler Paperny
DEATH RATE IS HIGH
Working with heavy gears and electrical wires in windowless elevator shafts that drop tens of storeys is a dangerous job.
According the Center to Protect Workers' Rights' 2006 report Deaths and Injuries involving Elevators or Escalators, 173 American workers died on or near elevators from 1992 to 2003.
Most of the workers fell into elevator shafts. Others were caught in or between elevators, shafts or machinery, or were struck by falling objects.
The death rate for elevator installers and repair workers in the U.S. surpasses construction workers, who have some of the most dangerous jobs in the world.
From 1992-2002, the average death rate for elevator workers in construction was 29.1 per 100,000, more than twice the rate for all construction workers combined.
In Canada, more than 337,000 workers were injured and 1,097 killed on the job in 2005, according to the latest Human Resources and Social Development Canada report.
In Ontario, nearly 90,000 on-the-job injuries and 412 on-the-job fatalities were reported in 2005.
Recent deaths from falls down elevator shafts:
August 19, 2008
Five-year-old Jacob Neuman and his brother were stuck on a stalled elevator in New York when he tried to jump out to safety and instead fell 10 storeys down the shaft to his death.
Nov. 25, 2008
Dr. Daniel Kilman, 38, fell down an elevator shaft from the seventh floor of an historic San Francisco building where he was taking an Arabic course and died.
Dec. 10, 2008
Saskatoon cement worker Andrew Smith, 23, had been warned several times for not wearing proper safety equipment before he fell six storeys to his death while on the construction site of a luxury condominium.
April 30, 2009
Sheldon Scott, a 67-year-old blind man from the Bronx, died after he stepped through a faulty door into an empty elevator shaft in his apartment building and fell about four-and-a-half metres.