NYU Student Rescued After Being Trapped Between Buildings For 36 Hours
TRIBECA — An NYU student spent 36 harrowing hours trapped in a narrow space between a college dorm building and a parking garage before being found and rescued Sunday night, officials said.
Asher Vongtau, 19, a college sophomore who had been reported missing over the weekend, was pulled to safety from the space between NYU's Lafayette Hall at 80 Lafayette St. and an adjacent garage just before 7 p.m. Sunday — after having somehow fallen into the narrow gap some time Saturday morning, friends and officials said.
It took firefighters close to two hours to break through a wall to free Vongtau from the narrow space, after getting a call that he was trapped there just after 5 p.m. Sunday, according to the FDNY. Vongtau was taken to Bellevue Medical Center, fire officials said.
"Spoke to Asher, he's in good spirits.his mother and I are grateful to God for this gift! Thnx for ur prayers!" the boy's father, Lulufa Vongtau, wrote on Twitter at 11:35 a.m. Monday.
The teen fractured his skull, pelvis, and arm and had bruises on his lung and spleen, his mother told the Daily News.
Vongtau had been partying at a friend's room at Lafayette Hall, on Friday night, sources said. He was last seen leaving a friend's room at the dorm on Saturday morning to "get some air," said friend, Michael Yablon.
But after hours passed and Vongtau didn't return, his friends began to canvass the building and found someone who saw Vongtau walking up a flight of stairs about the time of the fire alarm, Yablon said.
"This is not a joke: Has anyone seen or heard from Asher Vongtau in the last 24 hours?" Yablon wrote on Facebook at 5:30 a.m. Sunday.
University officials said they began their search when they were notified of his disappearance Sunday morning, and were "checking the student's room, reaching out to friends, checking area emergency rooms, checking local precincts, and checking on the NYU locations where his ID had most recently been used for entry, among other efforts."
Eventually, a security guard found Vongtau's phone in an interior fire escape in the Lafayette Street building and heard the young man's moaning coming from between the buildings, moaning, according to a university statement. He did not fall from the roof as had been previously reported.
"We are glad that student was found and rescued, pleased that his condition was such that he was able to remain conscious and alert during the rescue, grateful to the FDNY and NYPD for their quick response and excellent work, and proud of our Public Safety officer for looking in what would have been an unlikely spot for a student to be," said university spokesman, John Beckman, in a statement.
Vongtau's mother, Habiba Vongtau, who rushed from Pittsburgh to NYC to be with her son after the incident, told the Daily News that "He was pretty weak, but he was able to say hi. I asked, ‘Are you in pain?’ He said the he is, but it’s nothing he can’t handle."
FDNY Battalion Chief Joseph Schiralli told NBC New York that Vongtau was "conscious, he was moving, he was definitely tired." University officials said Vongtau was able to communicate with rescuers throughout the operation.
How he got stuck between buildings is still a mystery.
His mother told reporters Monday afternoon that he doesn't remember much from his ordeal, but she said she was more concerned with his recovery.
"We'll get there eventually," she said. "I haven't asked him all the questions. I'm waiting for him to get better."
Investigators were also trying to piece together how the 19-year-old became wedged between the buildings and poring over surveillance footage to determine the moments that led to Vongtau's plunge, sources said.
According to students, the dorm's roof is off-limits and the university is strict about the policy.
But a complainant in 2010 said the building's 18th floor balconies were cracked and unstable, which was dangerous because "kids [were] using them to climb on roof," according to the Department of Buildings website.
Inspectors said the complaint did not merit a violation, according to the website.
The teen was last seen in Lafayette Hall on Saturday morning some time before 8:30 a.m., about the same time as a false fire alarm went off in the dorm, university officials said. The FDNY searched the building, but found no fire and left, sources said.
With reporting by Jordan Teicher.