Location: New York, New York
Date: September 7, 1987
In New York, New York on the night of September 7, 1987, 30-year-old Edwin Ortiz and his friends went to the 50th Street subway station to take the subway up to Columbia University where they danced on the first Friday of every month. At one floor below, a crowd of people waited for a northbound train, but 23-year-old Alex Cumba suffered an epileptic seizure and fell onto the track.
When Edwin and the others came down to the station, a woman appeared, and screamed that someone was on the track. Edwin immediately went downstairs along with his friends. He, along with two other bystanders, Jeff Kuhn and Melvin Shadd, came onto the track and tried to help get the unconscious Alex onto the platform.
"There was nothing he could do because he was knocked out. I mean, I couldn't just stand there and watch a subway run over him," Melvin stated. On the platform above, Edwin's friends, including Dennis Diaz, tried to help lift Alex up on the platform. But, despite their efforts, they couldn't get him up fast because he was very heavy.
Melvin looked up and saw a train light in the distance. Then he saw a subway and yelled out in warning. As Melvin jumped back onto the platform, Edwin and Jeff saw a crawlspace underneath it and quickly managed to get themselves and Alex on it as the subway went by them and made a stop at the station. Dennis and the others didn't know their circumstances or what was going on.
New York transit cop Sean McGowan ran up and learned about the situation. He radioed to dispatch, who send a transit rescue unit to the scene, led by EMT Frank Boulanger. "When you receive a call that someone is on the tracks, right away we think the worst-case scenario. Having a four-thousand ton subway strike you and hit any shape way or form is going to do major damage," Boulanger stated.
One of Edwin's friends looked down and asked him, and they heard them come. As Edwin and Jeff waited on the crawlspace with Alex, they anxiously wanted to get the subway out of the way. Edwin saw that he had soil and blood on his arm. At first he thought he hurt himself without realizing it, but found that the blood was coming from a cut on Alex's head.
Within five minutes, the rescue unit arrived, and found a curious predicament with Alex and his two rescuers. There was a third rail, which was fired up by 600 volts of electricity, enough to kill someone instantly. The undercarriage of the subway was also electrified with that much. Despite that Edwin and Jeff wanted it to move out of the way, Dennis told the rescuers that any part of their body and parts of their clothing might be on the tracks and if they moved it, they could be dragged to death.
Alex then regained consciousness and started to grab the power chute on the underside of the subway. But Edwin and Jeff both grabbed him away from it since they could get themselves electrocuted if he touched it. Boulanger told them to turn off the voltage quickly. But when rescuers saw that Alex was endangered of being electrocuted before that would be done, they decided that they couldn't wait. Boulanger went down there and placed a body bag on the power chute to avoid electrocution. After that, they got Edwin and Jeff off of the tracks. As Boulanger examined him, he saw that he had a couple of lacerations, one on the head and the other on the arm. The medics bandaged him up and put a cervical collar on him because of the fall. Alex was taken to the hospital for examination and was released without serious injury.
"I just set down and was just like, 'What the hell did I just do? You're crazy. Why did you do this?' But you know, a lot of people think New Yorkers are cold and heartless and wouldn't help their neighbors. And it's true to a certain extent that there a lot of people like that in New York, but I think they would help somebody who needed it," Edwin stated.
Three years after the incident, Alex and his father look back on the night he was nearly lost. "I didn't believe what happened to me and the second shock was that somebody actually risked his own life to save me. Those people who did that was just incredible," Alex said. "I was amazed because the fine people that will look out to do in this city was very hard. I'm very grateful to them and wish one day to be able to do something for them," Alex's father stated.