INVESTIGATORS: Danger on the escalator's edge

- A Minnesota boy’s shoe became a mangled mess after his foot was caught in an escalator at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in March.

Luckily, the 10-year old boy escaped with only a minor scratch, returning home safe after a spring break vacation with his family in California.

“It happened so fast it’s literally just a blur,” Joshua Berger, the boy’s father, said.

Airport surveillance cameras show what happened as the family of five took the escalator down to baggage claim. The Berger’s son, Trig--who was midway down the escalator--suddenly screamed out for help.
  
“I dropped to the floor of the escalator. There’s his shoe and in the background I can hear people screaming, he’s screaming.  And he can’t get his foot out of his shoe.  And the shoe is literally being pulled down sideways and he’s being twisted to the rear. I just managed to yank his foot out,” Joshua said. “I’m confident his foot would’ve been eaten by the machine.”

His mother will never forget the sound.

“Pop, pop, pop it was the shoe being ripped apart,” Rachel said.

According to the police report, the child’s shoelaces were tied but the "loops" were very loose and floppy.

A state inspection two days later found the escalator was up to code.  A safety device known as a skirt switch apparently stopped the machine, but not before it mangled the tennis shoe.

A spokesperson for MSP said there's maybe one escalator incident every 3 to 5 years at the airport.

ESCALATOR DANGERS

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, there are 90 billion escalator rides every year in the United States--with more than 10,000 injuries a year.  The vast majority of those injuries are from trips and falls.

The Fox 9 Investigators went through state inspection records looking to see if accidents are caused by mechanical failure or human error.

There were 65 failed escalator inspections from the Minnesota Department of Labor & Industry in the last six years.

Fox 9 also went through reports from Minneapolis and St. Paul, which conduct their own inspections.

Altogether, we found 18 accidents with injuries.

Eight of those injuries are linked to a mechanical malfunction of the escalator, while 10 injuries were caused by human error.

The highest volume of escalator traffic is at Mall of America, with nine failed inspections. In February, a shopper fell when the handrail stopped, but the escalator kept going.

Also in February, a child sitting on the escalator steps cut two fingers at the top of the escalator.

"The majority of our escalator incidents are due to some sort of misuse,” a Mall of America spokesperson said. "It is important to watch young children.”

Macy’s stores in the Twin Cites also had 9 failed inspections.

According to the company, its escalators are inspected annually and undergo regular maintenance.

At U.S. Bank Stadium, it was an intoxicated man who fell backwards in August 2016.

At Target Field, a man wearing flip-flops lost his balance and his foot was pinched by the side of the escalator in June 2010.

RESPECT THE MACHINE

Traveling at 100 feet per minute, an escalator is a kind of mechanical beast not to be messed with. 

“I respect escalators a lot,” said Omar Magana, who inspects escalators for the City of Minneapolis.

Once a year he will inspect them, looking for the gap between the steps and the side of the escalator. It should be no more than 5 millimeters--a quarter of an inch--about the size of a pencil eraser.

If the gap is any wider, escalators must have a brush along the side to let riders know if they are standing too close to the side.

But he said everyone should know what to do if something or someone is caught.

In 30 years of inspecting escalators, Magana said the biggest problem is people not paying attention: riders standing backwards, leaning against the side, looking at their cell phone or unattended children. 

Footwear is also a concern: sandals, flip flops, crocs and dangling shoe laces are not recommended.

Clothes like long dresses and saris can also get caught in the mechanism.
 
“I pause when I see children, small kids, riding the edge,” Magana said.

RECOMMENDED WAYS TO RIDE

Experts, including the Consumer Product Safety Commission, recommend the following when riding an escalator:

  • Follow the signage posted at the top and bottom of each escalator:
  • Keep loose clothing clear of steps and sides
  • Wear closed-toed and hard-soled shoes, and avoid wearing footwear made of soft-resin or other rubbery materials
  • Do not take wheelchairs, electric scooters, strollers, hand carts, luggage carts or similar items on the escalator
  • Face forward and hold the handrail
  • Hold a child’s free hand. The child and parent should each be holding the handrail.
  • Avoid the sides and stand in the middle of step if possible.
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