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rosehips
02-10-2014, 08:02 AM
Hi all. I need to come up with a scenario where my mc, who lives in a fictitious city in a fantasy world based on 1920s retro-futuristic sci fi (AKA dieselpunk), would survive a sabotaged elevator's free fall.

I googled this question and read this page (http://www.livescience.com/33445-how-survive-falling-elevator.html). I also read about Betty Lou Oliver (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betty_Lou_Oliver), but nothing I read gives details on what she may or may not have done to survive the crash. Plus she wound up with a broken back, and I'd like to create a scenario that is at least semi-plausible where my mc will walk out of the crash with only minor injuries.

In Oliver's case, the elevator's broken cable piled up under the elevator and somewhat cushioned the impact, so that's something I could have happen in my scene. Oliver's crash happened in 1945.

My world's tech is both 1920s level, but also has some futuristic stuff like robots. I've been drawing on some stuff that's more appropriate to the 1930s and 40s, too. So there's wiggle room there.

This character has the potential for superhuman feats of physical agility and strength, though at this point in the book she's sort of shut that down. Still, if it's the only way to pull off the scene, I can certainly draw on that.

Does anyone have any suggestions?

GHO57
02-10-2014, 08:58 AM
How about air cushioning?

Narrow enough space between the elevator car and the shaft could trap air under it... basically turning the entire thing into a massive shock absorber; the falling car would pressurize the air trapped under it. Adjusting the gap size you could set the terminal speed to survivable.

It's not really how we build shafts in the real world, but maybe they do, and it might be something the saboteur didn't think of.

JulianneQJohnson
02-10-2014, 09:08 AM
How far is it going to fall? Maybe a crimp in the cable stops it momentarily partway down so that the distance of the final fall isn't as great. In TV shows, people in falling elevators lay flat on the floor of the car. Does that even help? No idea, but I thought of it, so there it is.

wendymarlowe
02-10-2014, 10:59 AM
There's not much she's going to be able to do to save herself unless you completely re-design your fantasy elevator to be different from a real one. I think your best bet will be to have the sabotage be poorly done, so it doesn't work as planned.

Telergic
02-10-2014, 11:50 AM
Yeah, pretty much any existing elevator in the world will kill you in the expected way if it falls down the shaft. As mentioned, occasionally people will survive long falls as a fluke -- even free falls from airplanes -- but almost always with the usual serious injuries, and it's not a plausible thing to happen in a story anyway.

You'll probably have to come up with some kind of retro-tech gimmick. Conceivably there's some kind of crazy safety device that just rams a bar or similar mechanical stopper across the shaft every floor if something detects the elevator falling, so the car will hit it with a severe but less than fatal impact. It's a rather silly and expensive notion, but I can't think of anything else which is even faintly plausible.

Maxx B
02-10-2014, 02:33 PM
The MC manages to rock the elevator car enough to knock it off one of its guide rails. The friction of the derailed wheel and the car rubbing against the rail could act as a brake and slow the car enough to minimise the injuries sustained.

Chris P
02-10-2014, 02:58 PM
Bill Nye did a segment about jumping just before the elevator hits, and it was bogus. You have the same total distance fallen and the acceleration due to gravity would be the same no matter how high she jumped--she would hit the bottom at the same speed either way.

That said, I have heard of stuntmen landing on bent knees then using the momentum to go into a roll. But this will only mean the difference between being fine and broken bones from short heights, or dying and broken bones from medium heights, and nothing will protect anyone from higher falls.

Another option is that elevators only going one or two floors have pistons instead of cables, so if it falls it's not really a free fall. I guess it depends on if you want the explanation be mundane or if you want her powers to play a role. If her powers, then you can almost do whatever you want.

Cathy C
02-10-2014, 03:28 PM
Mythbusters took on this issue in their third season. Go watch (http://www.discovery.com/tv-shows/mythbusters/videos/elevator-of-death-minimyth.htm) what they discovered. :)

King Neptune
02-10-2014, 04:55 PM
It is a better idea to simply avoid elevators.

jclarkdawe
02-10-2014, 05:58 PM
I'm not sure why you're not using the Oliver fall as a model. It worked, and why argue with success.

However, if you want to use her superpowers, the jumping in the elevator works. Speed of jump up needs to be the same as speed of elevator down, creating a zero sum (or close to it). The theory is that if the elevator is going 50 mph (or whatever) down, and you jump 50 mph up, the force of impact is zero. Problem is jumping speed of humans is in the single digits.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

NeuroFizz
02-10-2014, 06:36 PM
A damaged elevator might have significant frictional resistance to a free-fall, so anything that would decrease falling speed would lessen injury. Make the elevator fall with such an intense screeching sound it creates an auditory disorientation at the same time the metal-on-metal friction keeps the elevator dive below the velocity of a free-fall.

NeuroGlide
02-10-2014, 06:37 PM
Elevators have friction brakes on either side of the guide rail. In freefall, these will clamp the rail and stop the elevator. As the other responses show, this fact isn't well known. Your assassin should have done more research.

mirandashell
02-10-2014, 08:21 PM
And if she's got superpowers, is there any way she can cling to the ceiling?

robjvargas
02-10-2014, 08:44 PM
I was going to mention friction brakes as well. I don't know how modern those are, though. Maybe in 1920, they don't stop the elevator, just hamper the fall into something survivable?

Telergic
02-10-2014, 09:25 PM
If you did have superjumping ability and you jumped up in the falling elevator at that critical last moment (how would you know when to jump?), you would hit the ceiling with the same speed as you would otherwise been smashed into the floor (and then would probably ricochet downward into the floor for a nice counter-coup). Anyway you'd be crushed in the mangled mass of steel at the bottom of the shaft which would kill you even if the silly bouncing around didn't, so it's probably not a very good idea even for comic books.

lbender
02-10-2014, 10:22 PM
If you want to use her powers, she could go through the trapdoor in the ceiling, grab onto something in the shaft, and stop her own plunge, while the car falls away beneath her.

Telergic
02-10-2014, 10:31 PM
If you want to use her powers, she could go through the trapdoor in the ceiling, grab onto something in the shaft, and stop her own plunge, while the car falls away beneath her.

Conceivable, but one of her powers would have to be superspeed, because it would only take a few seconds to drop the distance to the ground for any reasonable elevator shaft, not long enough for any normal person even to act on the idea. You'd really have to escape in the first second or maybe two. After three seconds the character would be moving almost 70 miles an hour, and could never grab anything without sustaining terrible injuries.

Really I think a better idea for the story is for the character to detect the trap ahead of time and act to forestall it. So if they know the elevator is going to drop when it gets down to then 20th floor, they can climb to the trapdoor in advance and grab a beam or something on the 21st and fake their own death for a while.

melindamusil
02-10-2014, 11:03 PM
Elisha Otis invented the safety elevator in 1852, which stops the elevator's freefall after only a few inches. He founded the Otis Elevator Company. It's my understanding that a modernized version of this safety device exists on virtually every elevator nowadays.

In the Oliver case, the rescuers intentionally bypassed this safety device because they intended to use the elevator to lower her to the ground, but the cables broke.

The OP said the elevator was sabotaged, which would explain the issue of the safety not kicking in. I agree with JCD- use the Oliver case as a model. You can say that she survives with just bumps and bruises.

rosehips
02-11-2014, 03:03 AM
Thanks everyone! I really appreciate all the great suggestions. I was thinking of having her climb out and grab something, so I'm especially glad Telergic pointed out the flaws in that possibility.

Mirandashell, yes, she could cling to the ceiling. Would that help?

I figured the Oliver case still involved an immobilizing injury... but I suppose it doesn't have to!

Thanks again, everyone.

eoficon
02-11-2014, 03:36 AM
Hi all. I need to come up with a scenario where my mc, who lives in a fictitious city in a fantasy world based on 1920s retro-futuristic sci fi (AKA dieselpunk), would survive a sabotaged elevator's free fall.

This character has the potential for superhuman feats of physical agility and strength, though at this point in the book she's sort of shut that down. Still, if it's the only way to pull off the scene, I can certainly draw on that.

Does anyone have any suggestions?

if you are not adverse to her using her superhuman strength then i say she should kick or shoulder check or otherwise compromise the side wall of the elevator car. A bent piece of steel plate or bar or something could conceivably slow her down. Or stop her outright. With whatever degree of agitation and upheaval best suits you.

Without superstrength the feat could be replicated with a well placed kick or loose steel beam jammed outside maybe.

Telergic
02-11-2014, 06:22 AM
Clinging to the ceiling would not help. The whole car will be a twisted mass of metal and paneling at the bottom of the shaft, and anything on the ceiling will strike the floor at the same speed as the floor does, just a millisecond later.

Elias Graves
02-12-2014, 02:17 AM
Elevators have friction brakes on either side of the guide rail. In freefall, these will clamp the rail and stop the elevator. As the other responses show, this fact isn't well known. Your assassin should have done more research.

This. The odds against an elevator going into free fall are staggering, even with sabotage. It would require serious structural modifications with heavy tools to do that.

NeuroGlide
02-12-2014, 02:32 AM
This. The odds against an elevator going into free fall are staggering, even with sabotage. It would require serious structural modifications with heavy tools to do that.

Some thing that occurred to me. In a fantasy world, magic would be used for safety (among other things). Economics, however, would still require it to be cheap. Since magic wouldn't amend itself to mass production, it would still have to be "krafted," probably by novices, and therefore unreliable. The only real reason to include it is that people expect it. The assassin defeats the magic safety and then the simple mundane safety kicks in and saves the passengers.

rosehips
02-12-2014, 09:10 AM
On the safety device... how hard would it be to disable? It sounds like the rescue workers in the Oliver case disabled it? Why would they do that?

NeuroGlide
02-12-2014, 09:42 PM
On the safety device... how hard would it be to disable? It sounds like the rescue workers in the Oliver case disabled it? Why would they do that?

In theory some oil on the guide rail would do it, but in practice, the brake might grip enough to slow the car. Fully disabling it would require propping it open so doesn't touch the rail. Depending on where it's placed, it could be difficult to access. On top, no prob, on side, cramped, under, where are you standing?

Can't comment on Oliver case, know nothing about it.

Edit: Oil + friction = fire.