NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A 19-year-old New York University student was recovering in the hospital Monday afternoon, after being trapped between two buildings for almost two days.
As CBS 2’s Andrea Grymes reported, police said Monday afternoon that Asher Vongtau told them he simply fell while walking on the roof. He ended up wedged in an 18-inch crevice for 36 hours.
His mother said Monday that her son was in a daze, but doing a lot better after the frightening ordeal.
To rescue Vontgau from the space between an NYU dorm building and a parking garage, firefighters had to cut through a concrete wall.
“He’s in stable condition and he’s doing OK,” said Vontgau’s mother, who spoke briefly with reporters outside Bellevue Hospital Monday afternoon. She raced to New York from Pittsburgh to be at her son’s side.
His father tweeted from Nigeria Monday morning: “Spoke to Asher, he’s in good spirits. His mother and I are grateful to God for this gift! Thanks for your prayers. It is well.”
Vongtau went missing early Saturday morning when the fire alarm went off in a dorm building at 80 Lafayette St. Classmates said they last saw him running up the stairs while everyone else was running down.
“I just know I saw him frantically running back up the stairs while people were exiting the building to leave because the fire alarm had been pulled,” said friend Colin Chenel.
Police said Vontgau told them he was walking on the roof of the dorm in the dark and did not see the gap between the buildings before he fell down.
Vongtau’s friends got worried when he didn’t reply to texts. They reported him missing to campus security, but claim their concerns weren’t taken seriously so they searched on their own.
“We went door-to-door asking people what they knew about him, and one person told us they had seen him heading upstairs, so we went to security and said, ‘Hey guys, you need to go on the roof and search the roof,’” said classmate Michael Yablon.
NYU officials said they received the first report of Vongtau going missing at around 12:30 a.m. Sunday morning, and immediately commenced a search. The person who reported Vongtau missing said he was last seen leaving the Lafayette dorm early Saturday and hadn’t been heard from since, NYU said.
Public safety officers checked Vongtau’s room, as well as the dorm on Lafayette, but were unable to find him, NYU said. The search encompassed Vongtau’s dorm, including his room and common areas, a system-wide check of NYU ID cards to see if it had been used for access anywhere on the campus, and NYU officials said they tried reaching out to Vongtau with phone calls and text messages.
Public safety officers also called local emergency rooms and police precincts, NYU said.
At around 4:30 p.m. Sunday, students notified a public safety officer at Lafayette Street residence hall saying they had found Vongtau’s shoes on the 7th floor of the dorm, and that they thought he may have headed to the roof, NYU officials said. Following the report, NYU instructed its public safety officers back to the Lafayette Street dorm.
A search of the roof turned up nothing, but a further search of the residence hall – including areas typically off-limits to students – led to the discovery of Vongtau’s iPhone on fire escape of the neighboring building, NYU said.
The public safety officer heard Vongtau’s moans and called the FDNY and NYPD, NYU said.
“Our squad company was on the roof of the parking garage and were able to lower breathing apparatus down to him to keep the victim on air while we tried to extricate him,” Fire Chief Joseph Schiralli said.
“I think if one looks at this, at each turn the public safety department took the report seriously and didn’t wait to act. They followed common sense steps to try and find the missing students, and they responded by adjusting their efforts to the information they had,” John Beckman, spokesman for NYU, said. “And ultimately, there was a good outcome.”
Vongtau was in serious condition at Bellevue Hospital as of late Monday afternoon.
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