Window washers describe 'panic' of dangling 69 floors above New York

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 14, 2014 1:56 PM

By Sebastien Malo

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Two window washers who dangled from a broken scaffold 69 floors above the ground at One World Trade Center said on Friday their emotions ranged from terror to resolved calm while they awaited rescue and the rest of New York held its breath.

Two days after the harrowing accident at the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, Juan Lopez, 33, said the scare has convinced him to end his days of high-altitude work - at least for now.

"There's a lot of options for window cleaning - a lot of ground floor jobs," he said. "I will probably do that."

Lopez and his partner in the misadventure, Juan Lizama, 41, described their emotions in the two hours before firefighters pulled them to safety through a hole cut in the building's glass shell as throngs of people watched from the street.

"In the beginning it was panic and pretty much survival," Lopez said at his union's headquarters.

Lizama said he tried to find words to allay their fears.

"I told Juan, 'This is something that is not in our hands, be patient, help is coming,'" Lizama said.

He then called his wife. "I said, 'There is an emergency but it's all under control,'" he said.

Before starting work Wednesday morning, the men had performed a regular safety check on their window-washing platform and then descended from the top of the 104-story building to the 43rd floor to begin work. They made it up to the 69th floor by mid-afternoon when suddenly the left side of the platform became stuck as the right side continued rising. The platform was left dangling at a nearly vertical angle high above the National Sept. 11 Memorial in lower Manhattan.

Lopez said the scaffold emergency stop device had not worked properly.

Investigations by the Port Authority, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the state Labor Department are under way to determine the cause of the accident.

Unionized window washers are paid an hourly wage of between $21 and $26.98 to perform the daredevil work, said officials of Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ, and must complete 800 hours of training.

One World Trade Center, which is 1,776 feet (541 meters) tall, welcomed its first tenants earlier this month.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Bill Trott)