How to Escape a Stranded Elevator

There are few situations worse than being trapped in an elevator to elevate the pulse of anyone afraid of heights, confined spaces, or both. If you should ever find yourself lodged unfortunately between floors (or are currently reading this inside a stuck elevator), here is just about everything you should do to ensure a speedy escape. The thing to keep in mind is that, unless you find yourself in a life-or-death situation, the best thing to do is to call for help and wait for it. Many of your attempts to escape can actually lead you to more danger. To learn how to escape a stranded elevator as safely as you can, see Step 1 to get started.


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    Stay calm. As soon as you realize you're stranded, you may feel a natural urge to panic. However, you have to tell yourself to put mind over matter, and to stay as calm as possible. If you start panicking, your body will start to feel the effects, and you'll only be making it more difficult for yourself to think clearly, and therefore making it harder for you to find a way to escape.
    • Take a deep breath and relax your body. It is hard for your mind to be in panic when your body is relaxed.
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    • If you're not alone in the elevator, then panicking is more likely to make the people around you panic. And having multiple people freaking out in an elevator is not the way to safety. Instead, do your best to be a calming presence to the people around you.
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    Find a light source if the lights are out. If the elevator is dark, you can create some light by using a key chain flash light or opening your cell phone or PDA. Try your best not to keep the device on for so long that battery power is drained. Creating light will help you see the buttons and get a better sense of your situation. If you're not reading this while stranded in an elevator, then check out your cell phone to see if it has a special "flashlight" feature. If so, this can come in handy -- as long as you make sure it doesn't drain your battery!
    • It's also important to quickly get a sense of how many people are stuck in the elevator with you.
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    Press the call button. If it's dark, use the light source to find the call button. Then, press the call button to contact a technician to help you. This will alert maintenance personnel there is a problem with the elevator. This is the quickest and best way to get help -- much better and safer than trying to take the DIY approach.
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    If there's no answer, try calling for help. If there is no response to pressing the call button, check your cell phone for reception. If you have any reception, call your local emergency services number e.g. 911 for the United States, Canada, etc. 911 may unofficially work in other countries, but cannot be relied on where it isn't officially used. The EU has officially adopted 112 for emergencies, so that is the number to try first if you are in Europe.
    • If there is still no response, press the alarm button a few times.
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    Press the "door open" button. Sometimes, this button can just get jammed, and if you press it, it'll open the elevator right up. You may be laughing, but you'd be surprised by how many people call for help to escape a stranded elevator only to find that they just have to press the "door open" button again.
    • You can also try the "door close" button, which may have gotten jammed as well.
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    • You can also try pressing the button of a floor below where the elevator is currently resting.
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    If you can't call for help, try to get the attention of the people outside the elevator. If you've tried the call button or tried calling for help and have gotten no answer, then your next bet can be to try to shout or call for help. You can try to bang on the door of the elevator with shoes or other objects and yell to alert passersby. Depending on the sound transmittance of the door, tapping firmly with a key on the door may make a loud sound throughout the elevator shaft. Shouting can help alert people who are outside the elevator to your situation, but you should know that shouting or yelling excessively can also cause you to panic more, so make sure you try to stay reasonably calm when you are calling for help.
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    Wait it out. If you are not in an extreme life-or-death situation, just wait it out. In a best case scenario, people will notice the elevator is not working in minutes and you'll be out in no time. People frequently use the elevator and people in the building, especially building personnel, should quickly notice that something is off. Though shouting for help can also help, if it hasn't gotten you anywhere after a while, it's better to stop and wait than to use all of your energy.
    • If you've successfully made contact with emergency services, just remember that they'll be on their way as quickly as possible; entrapment calls are taken seriously and you could be freed in thirty minutes or less.
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    • Though it may be hard to create ice breakers or conversation starters when you're trapped in an elevator with a bunch of strangers, just keep the conversation going. Have people talk about who they are, what they do, where they were going, how many children they have, or really anything at all to keep the conversation going. Silence is much more likely to make people panic or to drop into despair. Do all the talking, if you have to, making sure to stick to the lighthearted topics.
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    • If you're by yourself, waiting may be a little more difficult, but try to occupy yourself. If you have a magazine or book on hand, consider yourself lucky. Don't waste your phone power by playing with your phone. Instead, try to think of ordinary things to calm yourself down, such as making a list of all of the things you did today, or trying to remember everything you had for dinner for the last week. Stay optimistic by thinking of all of the things you have to look forward to in the upcoming weeks.
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    • Pull or push the "stop" button to ensure the elevator doesn't move while you're attempting to crawl out.
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  • If you know you'll be somewhere where you'll most likely be taking an elevator, do not forget to bring your cell phone with you.
  • Try your best not to panic or scare someone else if others are trapped with you. After attempting to get help, sit down and strike up an unrelated conversation if possible to get your mind off the circumstances for the moment.
  • You should always have a small snack in your pockets or bag to help fend off hunger in a tight situation, even if you won't be traveling by elevator.
  • Most elevator mechanics agree that you can't pry open the doors if you're aligned with a floor. There's a lock mechanism that makes it impossible. And if you're not aligned with a floor you will have a very difficult time getting into the hallway. It's also impossible to get out through the escape hatch from the inside; an elevator mechanic must come and open it from on top of the cab. If you get stuck in an elevator, press the call button, talk to the technician and sit tight. Make small talk, exploit social media to tell people how exciting your day-to-day life is, or whatever else you do at work to pass the time. The fire department and the elevator mechanic will be there shortly to get you back on the ground.


  • It is usually safer to remain in the elevator as you risk electrocution and being crushed while crawling around an elevator shaft. Unless you are in a crisis, stay put.
  • Don't smoke or use matches, as you could set off an additional alarm; in the worst case scenario completely disabling the lift and leaving you stranded for longer.

Things You'll Need

  • Flashlight or cell phone with lighted display.

Article Info

Categories: Travel Safety & Security