HOUSTON – The Houston Fire Department says a malfunctioning electric motor is believed to be responsible for the precarious and death-defying Monday experienced by two window washers dangling on the north side of the tallest building in Texas.
The fire department's high angle rescue team got the call for help at 10:30 a.m. The window washers, on a platform suspended from the roof of the 75-floor Chase Tower in downtown Houston, were stuck when one of the two motors didn't keep up with the other, leaving the entire platform listing at a 45-degree angle at the 71st floor.
Donovan Austin was among the dozens of witnesses watching the drama play out from the corner of Milam and Prairie.
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"I had my headphones in and a friend tapped me on the shoulder and he pointed up and I said, ‘What?' I looked and said, ‘What in the world is going on there?' I said, ‘Is there somebody up there?'"
Austin and others then watched as the fire department arrived.
The window washers, secured with additional safety harnesses and cables that are separate from the window washing platform mechanism, waited for firefighters to rescue them. Rescuers were able to remove a window on the 71st floor, allowing the men to merely step inside the building to safety. Within a half hour of the rescue, mechanics were able to winch the entire platform back to the roof of the tower for inspection.
"Everyone's safe. Nothing significant, other than broken glass right now. So, it's a good day," said Houston Fire Department spokesperson Kenyatta Parker.
"I was happy to be where I was," said Jason Tinnel, who works across the street at the Houston Chronicle. "But they probably have a better outlook on life than I do right now, though, ‘cause they're still alive."
"I'm just glad that they got them inside, they're OK," said Austin. "I can only imagine being up that high and as cold as it is right now. You see that's why I don't do heights."
The window washers work for a private contractor. As of late Monday afternoon the window washing platform was still secured on the roof of the Chase Tower with no clear indication when the men would be resuming their high-flying job.