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Rescue 117

Stroller (pre-elevator) - St. Moritz SwitzerlandPHOTO: Stroller and strollee before elevator incident.

It began harmlessly enough. We'd finished an excellent buffet breakfast in the restaurant of the Hotel Hauser, a modern and comfortable hotel in the heart of St. Moritz.

We loaded our six-month-old son into his brand-new Swiss stroller, the one we'd bought after his previous lightweight stroller had lost a wheel on a snow-covered path the day before.

Next, we stepped into the Hauser's small elevator, closed the door behind us, and positioned the stroller so that it faced the elevator door.

My husband pressed the button for our floor. CLUNK! A metal lip at the front of the elevator retracted unexpectedly, leaving a gap of several inches between the lift and the closed door. As the elevator rose in its shaft, the stroller tried to stay behind--with our infant son trapped inside.

One of us hit the red emergency button, and the elevator stopped with the stroller's wheels jammed beneath its front edge. The door bulged outward like a tin can filled with cr�me de botulism soup. While I grabbed our baby from his stroller, my husband pressed the alarm button.

A bell echoed throughout the restaurant. Footsteps approached, and a voice called to to us in German. Somebody--the manager, perhaps--ascertained that we were alive and hadn't lost any limbs. Switching to English, he told us the good news: that he was telephoning the Otis Elevator Company's nearest Swiss representative in Chur. We were left to figure out the bad news for ourselves: Chur was a good two hours from St. Moritz, making an imminent rescue by the Otis SWAT team unlikely.

Not to worry. The hotel's engineer arrived on the scene with his toolbox, and we were told that he'd try to open the door's safety lock or remove the door from its hinges. These efforts proved futile, alas; the Otis engineers had designed their elevator with a burglarproof door.

My husband, in the meantime, was afraid the hotel's engineering staff might destroy a perfectly serviceable elevator door in their eagerness to rescue us. He suggested opening the door on the floor above, making it possible for us to escape by crawling out the top of the elevator. Nobody was listening--either that, or the engineer couldn't hear us amid the the hammering and conversation outside the lift.

Suddenly the hubbub in the lobby became louder. A crowbar's tip protruded into the elevator, there was a huge crunching noise, the narrow frosted-glass panel in the panel cracked, and the door flew open--revealing a cheerful man in a stocking cap who turned out to be a member of the St. Moritz rescue squad. (Hence the "Rescue 117" in this article's title; "117" is the equivalent of "911" in Swizerland.)

We were rescued, but we weren't exactly free. For the remaining 18 hours of our stay, the hotel's desk staff were unfailingly polite but more reserved than they had been for the previous week. They declined our offer to write a letter to the elevator company about the defective or inadequate safety mechanism. We had the distinct impression that they thought the accident was our fault, and it was a relief to check out the next day.

From our experience, we learned two lessons:

1) Stay away from elevator doors--especially in the small, simple elevators that are common in Europe.

2) Look for elevators with toilet facilities, in case you get stuck between floors for several hours.

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