By Adam Nichols and Gabriela Resto-Montero
CHELSEA — A freight elevator that plunged three stories, crashed into a basement and hurt 22 people in Chelsea Wednesday morning had faulty brakes and wasn't supposed to be carrying passengers, the Buildings Department said Wednesday.
The accident happened at a warehouse on 19th Street, at Sixth Avenue, shortly before 7:30 a.m., the FDNY said.
A Buildings Department spokeswoman said the elevator brakes were defective and malfunctioned, causing the plunge.
The DOB spokeswoman added that the freight elevator was not legally allowed to carry passengers.
The brakes had passed its most recent Dec. 2010 DOB inspection, an agency spokeswoman said.
Building owners CF620 Owner 1 LLC were hit with violations for failing to maintain the elevator and illegal use of the freight elevator and were issued a cease use order preventing them from using the elevator for anything until the issues are resolved, a DOB spokeswoman said.
Those who had been inside the terrifying drop compared it to a carnival ride.
"Have you ever been to Great Adventure?" said Paul Giampiccolo, 47, an electrician from New Jersey who was on the elevator but wasn't hurt. "Have you ever been on the Free Fall? It was like that, but with a harder landing."
FDNY Deputy Chief Jackie Sullivan said the accident happened on a freight elevator.
He said 24 people — all men — had been going up on the elevator. It fell from the third or fourth floor, he said.
"They were going up, then suddenly they were going back down," he said.
Giampiccolo said all the men were construction workers.
He said they reached the fourth floor of the building, but the elevator doors didn't open.
Then it started to drop.
"We held onto the walls and each other, we braced ourselves," he said.
"We knew there was a bottom, but we didn't know how far it was."
The injured suffered mainly leg, back and neck injuries, said Sullivan. They were taken to area hospitals.