Location: Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Date: January 20, 1993
On January 20, 1993, Stephanie MacIntosh and her three children were waiting for a train in the Rundle Light Rail Transit station after spending the afternoon shopping at the Sunridge Mall in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Stephanie told her children to stay close by while she made a call at a pay phone. Five-year-old Rebecca and eighteen-month-old Taylor stood right by her side. But Michael, an active four-year-old, a real handful according to his mother, wandered away.
Michael hopped on a nearby escalator, sat on a step, and rode down. When he reached the bottom, the sleeve of his jacket got caught in the floor plates and he was pulled to the ground. As the stairs continued to move, the metal plates sucked up Michael's clothes, and within seconds, his jacket and sweatshirt became tightly wrapped around his neck. Michael screamed in pain.
A commuter, eighteen-year-old Nathan Gray, stepped on the escalator and heard a wail like nothing he'd ever heard before. He looked down and saw a child lying at the bottom of the stairs. Nathan ran down and tried to yank Michael free, but he couldn't move him an inch. The escalator was cinching his clothes tighter and tighter, and now his arm was caught in the plates and losing circulation fast. Still worse, the clothes wrapped around his neck were beginning to strangle him.
"Shut it off!" shouted Nathan as he scrambled to find the escalator's emergency stop button. Stephanie heard Michael's screams and ran down the escalator. Michael's breathing had become shallower. His screams were going fainter. Then he became quiet. "My heart was being ripped apart," remembered Stephanie as she watched his face grow deep purple. "He just went into a cold stare, and I just kept telling him, 'Michael, Mommy's here.' "
A passerby finally pressed the emergency stop button, but Michael's clothes continued to strangle him. Nathan whipped out his pocket knife to cut off the clothes, but they were wrapped so tightly around Michael's body that Nathan could barely slip the knife under them.
Meanwhile, a concession stand employee had called 911 and was speaking with dispatcher Don Papineau, but her heavy accent prevented him from understanding what the emergency was.
When another commuter, James Hilson, stopped to help Michael, Nathan handed him the knife, told him to keep cutting, and then ran to talk to the dispatcher. "Is he breathing?" asked Papineau. "Not from what we can tell," replied Nathan, so Papineau asked him to check on Michael's breathing and report back to him. By the time Nathan arrived at the escalator, Michael had begun screaming again. "It was the most beautiful sound I'd ever heard," recalls Nathan.
Rescuers from the Calgary Fire Department arrived on the scene, including paramedic Doug Lewis, who couldn't believe his eyes. How could Michael possibly have become trapped like that, he mused. It looked as if part of his body had been pulled into the escalator plates. His right arm had become severely twisted and was turning blue from loss of blood circulation. His face was covered with small blood spots, indicating intense suffocation.
In order to free Michael, rescuers needed to lift off the metal plates. There was so much clothing and skin trapped under them, it was difficult to loosen the screws. When the plates had been removed, rescuers got a good look at Michael. His right arm was broken and he had pinch marks from his shoulder down to his hips. Lewis felt that the boy was lucky to have escaped with such relatively minor injuries considering what he'd been through.
"Nathan is eighteen years old," says Stephanie, "and he's got a good head on his shoulders for doing what he did. I couldn't express enough thanks to him. If he hadn't been there, Michael probably would have died." Paramedic Lewis says parents need to realize that escalators pose a danger to children. He advises that when an escalator is nearby, parents take their children by the hand and make sure their clothing isn't dangling. Michael also has good advice for children. "You should stay where your mommy is. And Daddy." "Michael's a junior Evel Knievel," says Stephanie. "He's not afraid to do anything. Except he doesn't like to go near an escalator now unless he's right beside me holding my hand."