Asher Vongtau of Nigerian descent is indeed a survival, as he was completely alone, trapped in a space barely wider than a shoe box after plummeting perhaps 30 metres into the tiny crevice between two buildings in Manhattan, New York City.
He fractured his skull, one arm was broken and he suffered a collapsed lung. But survived still, as day turned to night and back to day again, there was one urgent question: Would help arrive in time?
Not only had Vongtau, a 19-year-old New York University sophomore, survived the fall, but he had been trapped for nearly 36 hours.
The gap between the two buildings is wider on the higher floors, but the last six metres or so of space is quite narrow because of a setback. That lack of space might have helped slow his fall, officials said.
There is also an old fire escape on the building next to the dorm as well as an unused fire escape attached to the dorm, and officials said it was possible he could have fallen from one of those as well, in which case he might have fallen a shorter distance.
Vongtau was awake on Monday and talking to friends and family members, but it was unclear whether he was able to recall the details of what happened.
The weekend started like a typical one for a college student, with a night of partying Friday. After going out, Vongtau went to the 10th-floor dorm room that another student, Michael Yablon, shared with three roommates.
Yablon, Vongtau and another friend were still awake when the sun came up.
At around 7 am, Vongtau left the room “to get some fresh air,” Yablon said.
Soon after Vongtau walked out the door, someone pulled a fire alarm, waking up residents and causing a brief period of chaos.
By the time it was clear that it was a false alarm, Vongtau had disappeared.
At first, his friends thought he must have gone to his dorm room in nearby Alumni Hall to get some sleep. But on Saturday afternoon, they started to worry.
Yablon said that Vongtau, who was born in Nigeria and moved to the United States when he was 12, always returned messages. When his friends were unable to contact him, they were convinced that something was terribly wrong.
Saturday night they alerted campus security and, later, called the New York Police Department.
Yablon on Monday said he did not think the university treated his concerns with enough urgency. But university officials said they did all they could with the information available.
By Sunday morning, the university’s security officers had contacted nearby hospital emergency rooms and checked to see whether Vongtau’s student identification card had been used to enter any university buildings. His friends began a frantic search, on foot and online. They even reached out to his 13-year-old sister on Facebook, hoping his family might have heard from him.
It was all to no avail.
Then, on Sunday evening, Yablon said, someone got in touch with the friends about a stray pair of grey high-top sneakers discovered in a hallway on the seventh floor of the dorm.
Yablon said they quickly realised the shoes belonged to Vongtau and once again contacted campus security.
John Beckman, an NYU spokesman, said the initial reports indicated that Vongtau left the dorm on Saturday, but with the discovery of the shoes, attention was focused on the building itself.
A security officer checked areas usually off limits to students, including the roof, Beckman said. Students are warned that going on the roof can result in their being kicked out of the dorm. Nothing was found on the roof, Beckman said.
About 5 pm, a security officer checked the area around the bottom of the fire escapes and found Vongtau’s phone. He also heard what sounded like a soft moan, Beckman said.
At 5:11 pm, Blatus arrived on the scene.
From the fire escape of the adjacent building, firefighters could see where Vongtau was located and they quickly determined that the safest way to get to him was through the wall of the garage.
“It was a painstaking process,” Blatus said.
They cut through two layers of cinder blocks, being careful not to cause structural damage to the building or further harm to Vongtau.
It was also critical to get him medical treatment.