NEW YORK — Ming Kuang Chen was written off after vanishing Friday night while making a delivery for Happy Dragon restaurant at a high-rise apartment building.
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As police conducted a massive search and days passed, speculation grew that the 35-year-old Chen was the victim of armed bandits or some other urban horror in the Bronx borough.
But more than three days later, the deliveryman emerged with a mean thirst and a tale of survival: He had been stuck by himself in an elevator the whole time, without food or water. He was pulled out at about 5 a.m. Tuesday — 80 hours later — by firefighters responding to a security officer’s call for help from the high-rise.
“Thanks for everyone caring about me,” Chen said afterward in an interview with ETTV, a Taiwan-based news network. “I’m fine now.”
Chen — an undocumented immigrant from the Fujian Province in southeastern China who speaks mostly Mandarin — apparently tried to tell rescuers how long he had been trapped by circling his watch dial with his finger numerous times, said Charlie Markey, a Fire Department spokesman.
Meal was delivered
The deliveryman was given water at the scene before being treated for minor dehydration. “He was in very good condition,” said Montefiore Medical Center spokesman Steve Osborne. He had no food with him in the elevator, having delivered his last meal.
On Tuesday, authorities — who conducted a door-to-door canvass of the apartment complex over the weekend looking for Chen — were questioning why police officers and the building’s private security force found no sign of Chen, who claimed he had repeatedly cried out and pushed an alarm button in the elevator.
“I tried to knock (down) the door and kept screaming for help, but no response,” Chen said in the television interview. “During the time I was stuck in the elevator, I just kept sleeping because I don’t know what else to do.”
Chen was last seen about 8:30 p.m. Friday after making three deliveries at the same apartment complex in the Bedford Park neighborhood. He later told police through a translator that he had entered an elevator on the 32nd floor of a 38-story building when it plunged down and became stuck between the third and fourth floors.
An investigation on Tuesday determined that the security camera and alarm system in the elevator were working. But security officers told police they didn’t hear or see Chen until security workers responded to his calls early Tuesday. Chen said his pleas using the intercom were answered, but that the language barrier was too great.
Even maintenance workers who were called to check out the disabled elevator on Monday missed Chen, police said.
Those questions aside, Mayor Michael Bloomberg marveled at Chen’s good luck.
“If they were there and they searched and they didn’t find him, thank God it turned out that he’s OK,” the mayor said. “I think we should all be thankful that the man’s alive.”
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