Washington Monument elevator breaks down, temporarily strands visitors on upper level

Two days after the gala reopening of the Washington Monument, its elevator malfunctioned twice Wednesday, briefly stranding passengers and forcing one group of visitors to walk down the 896 steps from the observation level.

In both instances, people were evacuated safely. The elevator remained out of service early Wednesday evening, but the National Park Service said it hoped to have it working again shortly.

The elevator carries visitors to an observation level with windows that offer spectacular views of Washington and surrounding areas.

In the first malfunction, at 10:53 a.m., 18 people were aboard the elevator and 61 were on the observation level 500 feet up when the elevator suddenly stopped about 20 feet above the ground floor, said Park Service spokeswoman Carol Bradley Johnson.

The operator took the elevator back to the ground floor, and the passengers got out, Johnson said. Park rangers then radioed the observation level to alert rangers and visitors there to begin walking down.

This timelapse documents the nearly three-year restoration of the Washington Monument after the 2011 earthquake that rocked D.C. The monument reopens to the public Monday. (Timelapse courtesy of EarthCam)

Johnson said there were two rangers on duty above. One escorted a faster-walking group of visitors down and then returned to help the other ranger escort the slower-moving group, which included a woman in her 80s.

It took that group 40 to 45 minutes to descend, she said.

“Nobody had to be carried, and everybody was in pretty good spirits about the whole thing,” she said.

The monument’s elevator contractor was summoned and made some repairs, and the elevator resumed operations at 12:25 p.m.

Around 5 p.m., the operator was unable to get the elevator to leave the ground floor with a load of passengers. Those on board were taken off, and the contractor was summoned again.

The contractor was able to get the elevator going, took it up to the observation level and took a group of visitors down.

The glitches came two days after the 555-foot-tall national landmark, damaged by an earthquake, reopened after a $15 million repair job that took 32 months and closed the stone obelisk to visitors.

But the funding for the monument’s repair covered only damage caused by the 5.8-magnitude earthquake that struck the Washington area Aug. 23, 2011, the Park Service said. That was mainly stonework.

It did not cover the aging elevator machinery.

Mike is a general assignment reporter who also covers Washington institutions and historical topics.
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