After a Big Apple-based writer tweeted about subway water plopping into her eye earlier this week, the unsavory story went viral, sparking tales of all kinds of New Yuck-centric encounters.
Among the more than 2,000 replies to Dana Stevens’ stomach-turning tweet, one man claimed to swim out of a flooded subway station flanked by rats while another got a mouthful of live pigeon wing.
The responses helped illustrate how Gotham residents have a distinct set of phobias — though they’re not limited to vermin and muck in our transit systems. There are also the ever-present fears of plunging through a subway grate or getting clobbered by a falling AC unit.
“In New York City, it’s unique to live in the middle of the great heights,” science writer Cody Cassidy, who co-authored “And Then You’re Dead: What Really Happens If You Get Swallowed by a Whale, Are Shot from a Cannon, or Go Barreling over Niagara,” told The Post.
“You have skyscrapers above and the subway underneath. Things can fall on you and you can fall down below.”
Here are some NYC-specific nightmare scenarios — as well as the likelihood of them occurring and, if they do, how you can increase your chances of survival.
Falling through subway grates
Back in May, an 11-year-old boy in Bushwick fell through an open subway grate in Rudd Playground. He plunged about 10 feet onto vents and missed the tracks. Luckily, he only sustained minor injuries.
According to statistics provided to The Village Voice by Con Ed and the MTA in 2015, someone falls through the grates about once every 20 months, meaning you’re much more likely to be accosted by a zombie panhandler than be swallowed by the sidewalk.
If you’re one of the unlucky few, Cassidy said your chances of survival depend on the depth of the fall. “If you land on hard ground and it’s under 20 feet, you will probably break a bone. Between 30 to 40, your survival is questionable. If it’s in the water, you can go 150 and survive.”
An AC unit dropping from the sky
Precariously placed window units do plummet down from time to time, though the last fatality on record was in 1988, when a man named Vito DeGiorgio was struck and killed by an AC unit.
In August, a firefighter battling a blaze in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, was knocked unconscious after being hit in the head by an AC unit that had fallen from a window. He was treated at Lutheran Hospital for his injuries.
Other air conditioner incidents have included a unit that was accidentally dropped from a sixth-floor window and injured a woman’s leg in 2014; in 2010, a man was left in a coma after he was struck on the head by an AC unit that had fallen and bounced off an awning while he was walking his dog. The man ultimately survived.
Still, while rare, Cassidy said an object of that weight, even falling from six feet, can be disastrous if it strikes a victim right in the head.
Elevator cables breaking
Plunging into the abyss of an elevator shaft is the stuff of nightmares, especially in the land of tall buildings powered by them. The most recent incident happened in May when an elevator collapse in a four-story Bronx building killed one and critically injured another man. According to TheRealDeal, there were 22 deaths in NYC resulting from elevator accidents between 2010 and January 2019.
Cassidy said if an elevator cable breaks, the free fall will depend on the design of the shaft. “If it’s a smaller building, it has a narrow shaft and the air can get trapped and almost provide a cushion, slowing it down.”
If it does happen, don’t jump. Cassidy advises to lay down face up and spread out the impact throughout your body. “It’s like you’re making a snow angel in the elevator,” he said.
Falling onto the subway tracks
Stumbling onto the subway tracks ranks pretty high on New Yorkers’ phobia lists. It’s a major plot point in Netflix’s “You,” in which a drunk Beck falls onto the tracks as a train pulls into the station only to be rescued by Joe. Sure, he later kills her — but that’s another Big Apple worry.
The MTA has recorded dozens of people hit by trains through the first five months of the year — with the NYPD reporting 23 “non-criminal” fatalities during that period, down one from the same time frame last year. There’s also been a string of unprovoked attacks of straphangers being shoved onto the tracks, including the latest incident on Monday in Tribeca, where the victim was able to crawl back onto the platform.
In 2007, 20-year-old film student Cameron Hollopeter fell onto the tracks after suffering a seizure. With the train barreling into the station, Navy veteran Wesley Autrey jumped down to lay on Hollopeter, holding him down in a space between the tracks. They both survived and Autrey was dubbed the “Subway Superman.”
If you land on the tracks and can’t climb back out in time, there are a few tips for surviving, such as rolling into the trough between the tracks and avoiding the third rail.
A penny tossed from a skyscraper
It’s well-known urban lore that dropping a penny from the top of the 102-story Empire State Building will kill anyone on the ground instantly.
Not so, said Cassidy. The terminal velocity is just 25 miles per hour, and the coin would tumble as it fell, slowing its speed. If it made contact, it would produce a sting.
“Throwing a baseball would break bones, but the most the most dangerous object to toss off the Empire State Building would be a pen, especially if it has a pocket clip because it can go up to 170 mph,” said Cassidy.
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