Elevator crash: 'I thought of my pregnant wife and held on' - victim recalls terror

26 June 2019 - 13:11 By Iavan Pijoos
A photo of the high-rise 120 End Street apartment block in Doornfontein, Johannesburg, is on display inside the offices of The Affordable Housing Company (AFHCO).
A photo of the high-rise 120 End Street apartment block in Doornfontein, Johannesburg, is on display inside the offices of The Affordable Housing Company (AFHCO).
Image: Emile Bosch

With blood flowing from her head, she screamed for help one last time, before her cry went silent.

Zwelethu Xolani Mambane was in the lift with the woman tenant at their block of flats in 120 End Street, Doornfontein, Johannesburg, on Sunday, when it crashed, leaving them "for dead". 

The lift had ascended rapidly and come to a stop above the 26th floor of the building. The woman suffered a critical head injury. Mambane was able to free himself by squeezing through a small gap.

Mambane, who lives on the 14th floor, told TimesLIVE on Wednesday that he had been taking the lift to the ground floor.

"When I entered the elevator, there was a lady inside wearing a white T-shirt. When the elevator reached the ground floor, the door opened, but it didn't allow us to go out.

"When the door opened, immediately it went up again.

"The door was open and you could see the wall while it was going up. It went up at a high speed and hit the roof on the 26th floor," Mambane said.

After the elevator crashed, they both passed out. He said he woke up to the screams of the bleeding woman inside the elevator.

"I'm dying, I'm dying. Please help me," the woman screamed.

By now, the glass from the elevator had also fallen on top of them.

The door was closed but there was a small opening on the side of the elevator.

"I went through that opening, which was in the passage where the elevator moves up and down. I had to walk on a small steel line which held the elevators together. I was afraid for my life that the elevator would go down again.

I could see the ground, it was black and scary
Zwelethu Mambane

"There were no wires around me, I was balancing on the small steel part with my feet hanging in the air. I could see the ground, it was black and scary."

Mambane said the injured woman was still inside the "crushed elevator".

While in pain and hanging on for "dear life", he called for help.

"For me it was life or death. A part of me told me to let go and fall, but I thought of my pregnant wife and everyone who depended on me, so I held on."

He said a technician arrived after an hour.

"He was even scared himself and didn't know what to do. I told him to open the next elevator and push it a little bit up so that I could climb on top of it. He did that and they managed to get me back into the building."

Mambane said while he sat on the floor, the woman was still screaming for help.

He said no one from the building management was present but that tenants were phoning paramedics.

According to him, government paramedics were the first to arrive. ER24 arrived later and helped the woman.

He said he was taken to Hillbrow clinic where a doctor assessed him and told nurses to give him a Panado.

The following day he went to a doctor who transferred him to Netcare Milpark Hospital in Parktown, where scans were done. He was diagnosed with bruised ribs.

Mambane said he paid for his prescription at the pharmacy and went home.

He said he received a call from the managing director of the building later that evening who asked him what had happened.

Mambane said his business has suffered because of the incident.

"I have to see clients for my business, but I can't even do that. I can't go down the stairs. I told them [the building's owners, the Affordable Housing Company] that they must give me a proposal to meet me half way."

He said, however, that AFHCO had offered him counselling and assured him they would pay his future medical bills.

"I already went to the doctor and paid for everything. I want compensation for the medical bills and the loss of income I suffered. They [AFHCO] are trying to justify what happened, it is very wrong because I am in pain and a person died there," said Mambane.

"I will never, ever take an elevator in my life again."

AFHCO brand manager Nomfundo Mwelase said they met with Mambane on the day of the incident as well as on Monday and Tuesday.

"Our priority is to support his well-being, so we have offered to help him get to his doctor appointments and receive counselling. We have also discussed whether he would want to move to another bachelor unit in the building or any other building, of which we would carry the costs of the move," Mwelase said.

She denied claims that the building management were not present when the incident occurred on Sunday.

"Our immediate priority when the accident happened was to ensure that we had the relevant authorities and technicians to assist with the accident."

X