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Student’s Dies While Riding Atop Elevator

March 15, 1990 GMT

AMHERST, Mass. (AP) _ A college freshman who fell to his death in a sport called ″elevator surfing″ was the latest casualty of a little-known but dangerous practice that has plagued high-rises for years, officials say.

Sometimes called ″elevator action,″ or ″piloting an elevator,″ the hazardous exercise involves climbing atop elevator cars, either through a trapdoor in the car’s roof or by jamming doors open from a floor above the car, and riding on the roofs.

″We’ve taken it terribly seriously. We’ve been fighting it for a long time,″ said Val Coleman, director of public information for the New York City Housing Authority. Ten deaths and more than 50 injuries have been reported in New York during the past five years, he said.

″It’s a very serious problem in our high-rise buildings,″ said Coleman, who worked on a recently released cautionary videotape on the issue called ″Children are Too Young to Die.″

At Otis Elevator Co., the nation’s largest elevator manufacturer, officials have known about the dangerous games for some time, said Michael Jordan- Reilly, spokesman for the Hartford, Conn.-based company.

″This is one of our major concerns,″ he said.

At the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, 18-year-old Joel Mangion of Newton was found dead at the bottom of an elevator shaft Sunday. Friends said he had been ″elevator surfing,″ jumping from one car to another in the double shaft.

About a year ago, a student suffered serious injuries after falling 30 feet in a shaft, university officials said. In the early 1970s, a student died after riding in a chair tied to the bottom of a car.

Students said they have heard of the practice, although it isn’t something most people try.

″Usually on the weekends when people are drunk, you hear about someone who went ’elevator surfing,‴ student Susan Beckett told the campus newspaper, The Collegian.

Donald A. Robinson, director of environmental health and safety for UMass, said officials are looking for new ways to discourage elevator surfing.

″The message needs to be made very clear how elevators should be used and not misused and to really emphasize the obvious significant consequences,″ he said. ″We are really trying to take a hard look at all the issues and make all efforts to make sure it doesn’t happen again.″

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Industry officials said it’s difficult to determine the extent of the problem because elevator deaths are not reported to a central agency. Jordan- Reilly said the problem has probably existed ″as long as there have been elevators and as long as there have been people who want to try something dangerous.″