At 8.30 am on Monday, Crime Branch Inspector Suresh Sonawane, 46, stepped out of his office elevator. He was famished. He stretched a bit and headed to a roadside stall for a cup of tea before calling home to tell his family that he was fine. While his family had been worried since Saturday that he had gone missing, Sonawane had, in fact, gone nowhere. He was stuck in his office lift for more than 42 hours.
He then went to the MRA Marg police station, where his family had filed a missing person complaint, and informed the cops that he was fine. A furious Sonawane then headed home. He was in no state to even record his statement fully. He wanted to rest awhile. And then he would look for answers.
When he stepped out of his office on Saturday afternoon, all he wanted to do was eat lunch. Instead, he was left to survive on nothing more than the dank air that filtered through tiny opening the elevator car’s fan duct for aday and a half.
And to his chagrin, Sonawane, who is ironically the second-in-command of the Crime Brnach’s Missing Person’s Bureau, found out that his ordeal was not caused by a mechanical failure but by an electrician who had switched off the power supply when he was still inside the lift, trapping him between the third and fourth floors.
Apart from the Crime Branch, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Market Building on Palton Road houses several other offices. More than 1,000 people work in it. But April 15 being the second Saturday of the month, many offices were shut. Sonawane, who had undergone a neurosurgery after suffering a brain haemorrhage seven years ago, finds it difficult to walk and always uses the elevator wherever possible.
“I had a light breakfast at home before going to work on Saturday morning,” a tired and heavily medicated Sonawane told Mumbai Mirror at his cousin’s home in Thane. “At around 2pm, I got out of my office and headed to the elevator to go to the canteen in the fourth floor. My boss Senior Inspector Prakash Jadhav was stepping out of the lift and I went in and pressed four.”
The car rode up a floor and shuddered to a halt somewhere between the third and the fourth floors. After 15 minutes the lights and the fan also stopped working. He tried pressing the buttons for the floors above and below but nothing happened.
“After 30 minutes I realised that the lift was stuck,” said Sonawane. “After one hour, it dawned on me that it was a Saturday and help may not reach till Monday morning.” Sonawane, who does not carry a cell phone on doctors’ advice after his surgery, tried calling out for help. But when nothing happened for a while he hunkered down for the long wait.
“I could hear faint voices from the outside,” he said. “But because of the steel body of the car and because my voice had grown feeble following surgery, my voice did not carry. That is when I started preparing for the long wait. I knew I had to keep my mental reserve till Monday. I kept thinking of my daughter and wife. Some of my police training also helped.”
After a few hours, Sonawane started to tire and sat down to conserve his energy. “I did not go unconscious at any point,” said Sonawane, who was not even wearing a watch. “When it became pitch dark and there was no sound coming from anywhere, I knew it was Saturday night. I slept fitfully.“
Throughout the 42 hours he controlled his urges as he did not want to dirty the place. “I knew it was Sunday when I saw light filtering in,” he said. “I told myself it was just a day to go and I will meet my daughter Apoorva and my wife Arundhati who would be very worried. Meditation helped me control my mind and body and be strong.”
On Sunday, his life flashed past him. When he woke up on Monday morning he could not wait for the power to come back on. “There were several thoughts about my initial career, the brain haemorrhage, recovery, my daughter growing up, days that my wife and daughter spent taking care of me after the surgery… Several things kept my mind busy . By night I again meditated and tried to sleep, but I woke up after some time thinking about the morning,” he said.
On Monday morning, he was overcome with anticipation that he would now be able to walk out anytime. As he expected, the administrative staff turned the power supply on at 8.30 am on Monday. He pressed the ground floor button and walked out of the empty building.
His body was aching and his legs were weakened due to cramps as he had not had food or water for a long time. When he reached home, his wife took him to a doctor who prescribed him medicines to recover from the weakness and get rid of the cramps. He was made to walk for some time so that his muscles relaxed.
An inquiry by the MRA Marg police showed that Iscon Elevators, the company responsible for the elevator, had scheduled maintenance work on that day as most offices would be shut. The police said the maintenance staff claimed to have checked the lifts before shutting off the power supply.
“I was in the machine room while my colleague on the fourth floor said he had checked the lifts properly,” said Ganesh Chavan from Iscon’s maintenance team. “I shut out the power. I don’t know how someone could have been trapped inside.”
The building’s liftmen, who ferry passengers up and down all day, were stunned by Sonawane’s ordeal. “It is surprising that Sonwane spent more than 42 hours inside the lift,” said Babu Farad, one of the building’s liftmen. “Even those of us who work there find it difficult to sit there continuously for more than two hours at a stretch. I can’t imagine how he survived alone without light or fan.”
The MRA Marg police are probing the matter to find out whose fault led to Sonawane’s agonising ordeal. “An inquiry is being carried out and appropriate action will be taken depending upon the results of the probe,” said Krushna Prakash, additional commissioner.