Men trapped in flooded elevator punched through ceiling to make lifesaving 911 call

Klever Freire says he and a colleague panicked as storm water started gushing into the stranded elevator in the Toronto building where he works, but they prayed and then started punching a ceiling panel to escape.

The frantic effort left the Toronto engineer with bruised knuckles, while his coworker, Gabriel Otrin, suffered cuts, but they managed to open a crack just big enough to squeeze a cellphone out to call 911. Emergency crews raced to the scene, rescuing both men, who were in chin-deep water — despite standing on the elevator’s handrails.

Const. Ryan Barnett and Const. Josh McSweeney raced to the scene and had to swim to the flooded elevator and use a crowbar to rescue the two men. When the officers reached the men, there was just 30 centimetres of space between the water and the elevator’s ceiling.

“I’m not sure how much time we had left in there,” Freire, who runs his own company, told reporters on Wednesday.

Otrin credited his faith with helping him through the ordeal.

“I prayed about it … and I was able to remain calm as a result because I knew God would save us.”

The dramatic incident happened in Toronto’s north end around 11 p.m., shortly after the city was slammed by what meteorologists are calling a “tropical downpour” that dropped upwards of 50 millimetres of rain on some areas in just one hour.

The two men were trying to get to the basement when the water started coming in, leaving the elevator stuck.

“It started gushing right away,” Freire said.

Otrin tried to use the elevator’s emergency system, but by the time they heard a response, the water was covering the speaker. Moments later, the electronics were fried.

The water quickly reached their waists while in the elevator, but then started slowing down. Freire said he watched the water cover different floor buttons. None of those buttons worked, nor did their cellphones.

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