Anyone unlucky enough to fall three stories stands around half a chance of surviving, according to the BBC. But when the fall occurs from around 10 floors, it nearly always proves fatal. However, some people defy the odds, like window cleaner Alcides Moreno. Indeed, in December 2007 he survived a 47-story fall in New York City, in what was later described as nothing short of a miracle.
Many people have big dreams about what they want to achieve in life. Maybe they want to become a doctor or lawyer, while others chase creative pursuits. Others might want to be CEO of their own company, or perhaps they have an invention or idea that could make the world a better place.
However, for millions of people around the world, the prospect of securing decent employment opportunities for them and their families can be difficult. And Alcides Moreno from Ecuador could certainly attest to that, as he considered his options in his home country.
Indeed, when Alcides graduated from high school, his prospects of finding a decent job at home in Ecuador were not good. So he emigrated to the U.S. in the 1990s, living with his younger brother Edgar in New Jersey. And here, the two men began to work as window cleaners.
And Alcides really enjoyed his job as a window cleaner. He told the BBC in March 2017, “I loved to see the windows really clean. I liked the water and the soap, how you press the squeegee. We would start at the top and clean all the way to the bottom. I loved it.”
However, window cleaning on a commercial scale can be an unforgiving job. And on December 7, 2007, Alcides and Edgar were contracted to clean the windows on the Solow Tower on the Upper East side of Manhattan. The building stands at nearly 700 feet, with floors 23 and above enjoying clear views of Central Park.
Furthermore, the window-cleaning job that Edgar and Alcides had taken on was a challenging one. The Solow building stands at 50 stories and has an unusual design feature in that its south and north facades curve inwards. And to make matters worse, with winter taking a grip on New York in early December, temperatures were close to freezing.
So on that chilly December morning, Alcides and Edgar rode the elevator up to the roof of the Solow Tower. They then made their way to the edge of the building and their work platform. But soon enough, events would take a dramatic turn.
Edgar and Alcides’ washing platform was held in place with cables. However, when the window cleaners climbed onto the 16-foot-wide work station the ties came undone. Indeed, according to an accident report by the United States Department of Labor, the cables had “slipped from their attachment point.”
The cable on Edgar’s side of the platform came loose first, throwing the younger of the two brothers towards the ground below. Then the cable on Alcides’ side became unattached, sending him plummeting more than 470 feet. Indeed, accident investigators later confirmed the latter hadn’t been wearing a safety harness.
Indeed, as mentioned earlier, people who fall from a three-story height have only a 50/50 chance of survival. And from 10 stories, the odds decrease to almost certain death, the BBC reported. And for their part, Alcides and Edgar had just plunged from a height nearly five times that.
The scene emergency services arrived to on the ground, then, was a horrifying one. Paramedics and firefighters found Alcides crouched amid the contorted metal. Against the odds, however, he was still alive. It is thought that, in the confusion and shock of what had just happened, he even attempted to get to his feet.
However, although he was alive Alcides was in an incredibly delicate state. Both his legs were broken and he had fractures to his right wrist and arm. He had a bleed on his brain as well as numerous other internal injuries. Rescuers knew they needed to handle him with care to avoid a fatal jolt.
Alcides was taken to the New York-Presbyterian hospital, which has some experience in treating patients who have suffered falls from considerable heights. Most of those stories, however, didn’t end well. But there was one case who pulled through injuries sustained in a 19-story tumble. For Alcides, then, where there was life, there was hope.
However, Alcides was in such a fragile condition that doctors treating him operated in the emergency room. Indeed, they believed even a mild jolt might kill him if they risked moving him to an operating theater. Alcides was barely conscious when he arrived at hospital, nevertheless doctors induced a coma and tried to fix him.
At first Alcides was given 24 pints of blood and a further 19 pints of plasma. To give some perspective, that’s enough to replace all the blood in a human’s body twice over. Meanwhile, Alcides had 16 surgeries to fix his collapsed lungs, damaged kidneys, ten broken bones and blood clots to the brain.
Alcides also had fractured ribs and had sustained damage to his abdomen, chest and spinal column. Drugs were administered to stop him losing any more blood, and they sliced open his abdomen to take pressure off his organs. He even had a catheter inserted in his brain to relieve the swelling.
However, as devastating as Alcides’ injuries were, he was lucky to be alive at all. Indeed, the resulting operations seem like a small price to pay when the outcome should have been certain death. It was luckier still that the window cleaner avoided major head injuries and paralyzing spinal damage, despite his shattered vertebra.
Indeed, Alcides’ survival from such a devastating fall was an incredible feat. And New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center chief of surgery Dr. Philip Barie told The Independent as much in a 2008 interview. He said, “If you are a believer in miracles, this would be one.”
Meanwhile, the hospital’s then-CEO Dr. Herbert Pardes told the BBC in 2017, “If you’re looking for a medical miracle, this certainly qualifies.” The Fire Department of New York’s Dr. Glenn Asaeda, however, believes a force beyond nature played a part. He said, “The survival rate even from a four-story fall is not very good. A higher hand was in control here.”
However, Alcides had a long road to recovery ahead of him, as the aforementioned 16 surgeries he underwent would suggest. In the aftermath of his fall he also required an operation to steady his spine, as well as surgery to repair the wall of his abdomen.
Meanwhile, Alcides remained on a ventilator for nearly three weeks after his fall. And for a while, the only way he could communicate was through touch. And his wife, Rosario, described the difficult time in an interview with The Guardian, saying, “He wanted to touch my face, touch my hair.”
Rosario would patiently sit by her husband’s bedside holding his hand. Then she would repeatedly lift Alcides’ hand toward her face to stroke her hair and cheek. She had hoped that the sensation would trigger a memory or a feeling that would help guide him back to consciousness.
Then, just 18 days after the accident, Alcides talked for the first time. In fact, it was on Christmas Day, and no doubt it was the best present Rosario could have hoped for. As she described to the world’s media in a press conference at the time, “He turned around and, in English, said, ‘What did I do?’”
“It stunned me because I didn’t know he could speak,” Rosario further described. Indeed, despite her husband’s miraculous survival from such a heavy fall, Alcides nevertheless received some terrible injuries. And to remedy this, he would undergo a number of treatment programs, including physical therapy to relearn certain tasks, along with mental exercises to rebuild thinking skills and speech therapy.
Meanwhile, there were moments of comedy in the hospital ward amidst the pain and suffering. That’s because Alcides had reached out and touched a nurse in his wife’s absence. And when she heard what happened, she jokingly scolded Alcides to be careful where he placed his hands. And according to The Guardian, he responded, “What did I do?”
Meanwhile, Alcides also received visits at the hospital from his three children. The two youngest children, however, only visited once. Nevertheless, Rosario clearly felt her children needed to see their daddy for themselves.
As harrowing as the sight may have been, Rosario’s children wanted to see their father with their own eyes. It was to understand that “Mommy wasn’t lying” and “unlike Edgar, he’s alive,” she described at a press conference at the time.
Meanwhile, when Alcides came around his recollection of the accident was fuzzy. As he recalled to the BBC, “My mind was so blurry.” The window cleaner had no memory of the fall, but when it came to his younger brother, who was also involved in the incident, there was a question Alcides felt it was unnecessary to ask.
“I understood that he must be dead because I looked around [the hospital room] and saw only me and my wife,” Alcides further explained. Indeed, it is believed that by the time Edgar hit the ground, he was travelling in excess of 120 miles-per-hour. And, tragically, he was killed on impact.
Meanwhile, Dr. Steven Kirshblum, medical director of the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange, New Jersey, described Alcides’ survival to the New York Post in January 2014. He said, “I do think it’s a combination of miracle, luck, hard work, great care and great family.” So how did he survive against seemingly impossible odds?
Well, Rosario believes that it was Alcides’ instinct to cling to his work platform that may have saved his life. He tried to lie flat on its surface, and it acted as an aerial surfboard, creating a friction that slowed his descent. Indeed, it may even have met gusts of wind on its way down, causing further deceleration, physicists told the New York Post.
Meanwhile, when Alcides’ window cleaning platform came crashing to the ground, its structure may have absorbed the worst of the impact with the concrete floor. Regardless, the sheer fluke of circumstances combined to create a situation in which the window cleaner lived to tell the tale.
However, Alcides’ recovery would be a long one. He required physical therapy to rebuild the strength in his legs and regain his balance. Then there would be occupational therapy to relearn basic motor skills like getting dressed, personal hygiene and grooming, followed by therapies to aid his speech and memory functions.
Meanwhile, Alcides also needed the help of a psychologist to cope with his brother’s death. He told the New York Post, “I felt really depressed for years about the loss of my brother. He was so huge to me.” He added, “But I have my family, my kids. I had to let it go and continue with my life.”
“Edgar lived with me in New Jersey,” Alcides explained to the BBC. “We shared a lot of things. He worked with me and died working with me.” However, with the support of his family, he was eventually able to pick himself up and carry on with his life, a task made slightly easier by some good fortune.
Meanwhile, although the brothers hadn’t been wearing safety harnesses or lifelines at the time of the accident, there was no indication that they hadn’t intended to use them. In fact, according to the BBC, investigators learned that their window washing equipment was found on the roof of the building, suggesting they intended to go back and put on the harnesses before starting work.
In fact, a court found that a company named Tractel was at fault for poorly fixed cables attaching the scaffold to the building. And with Solow Tower also found culpable, the compensation was huge. It’s not known how much Alcides received, but it’s believed to be substantially more than the $2.5million payout to Edgar’s family, the New York Post reported.
Alcides’ experience was later told by Morgan Freeman on a documentary called The Story Of God on the National Geographic Channel. For his part, Alcides now lives in Phoenix, Arizona, where he performs exercises and walks up to two miles every day, and even walks to raise money for charity. However, although his recovery has been a miracle, the one-time window cleaner is unable to work for the foreseeable future.
However, the free time gives Alcides the chance to do everyday things like drop his kids off at school and watch their volleyball games. It’s time that the father of three is no doubt grateful for. He told the New York Post, “I don’t know why I’m still here, still alive, walking. Maybe it’s a gift God gave me.”