TORONTO –A woman who spent hours suspended high above a construction site after scaling a crane in downtown Toronto was rescued Wednesday morning by being strapped to a rappelling firefighter and lowered to the ground as dozens watched in suspense from below.
Cheers erupted from the crowd of onlookers as the pair’s feet hit the ground around 8:30 a.m., bringing the dramatic, hours-long rescue operation to a safe conclusion.
The woman, believed to be in her mid-20s, was then handcuffed and handed over to paramedics. Her name has not been released and police say she is facing six counts of mischief.
Her perilous climb nonetheless remained a mystery even to those tasked with retrieving her, with firefighters saying there was no indication why she scaled the crane in the middle of the night.
They believe, however, that she climbed up the crane, crawled out on to the end of it, and slid down a cable to the large pulley device where she got stranded.
“She has to tell me how she did it because she has to be our new training officer for high-angle (rescue) because it’s impressive,” said Rob Wonfor, who rappelled down the towering machinery with her.
“It was hard enough for me to go up with ropes and harnesses and she free-climbed that.”
Wonfor said he didn’t ask her for an explanation during the rescue because they needed to stay focused. But he noted the woman didn’t seem frightened and was “very calm.”
“She was a brave girl, she helped me when I got there,” he said.
A 22-year veteran of the fire service, Wonfor said the rescue was unusual in that people who climb cranes typically stay on the shaft, which was not the case Wednesday.
The woman had been perched on a gently swaying large pulley device called the block –measuring only about 15 centimetres by 60 centimetres –for at least four hours and was clinging to a steel cable when Wonfor reached her.
“It’s an outstanding success,” Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg said of the operation. “We train for this, although we’ve never seen one like this before.”
Pegg said crews were called to the scene at a construction site on Wellesley Street near Yonge Street at about 4 a.m.
Wonfor and a police negotiator began climbing up the crane around 6 a.m. and the firefighter rappelled down to the woman on the pulley device around 8 a.m., Pegg said.
The firefighter then carefully strapped himself to the woman and the pair were slowly lowered onto the ground about half an hour later.
The plan had initially been to lower the block onto a nearby parkette once the two were harnessed but Pegg said the crane operator indicated the block might swing and the moving cables could cause some pinching.
“She was brought down safely, she didn’t appear to be in any distress,” Pegg said. “This was a very technical, very complex rescue.”
Wonfor also said he was feeling fine, although fatigued after carrying heavy equipment on an already intense climb.
But the firefighter had no intention of resting, and noted he was heading to play in a hockey tournament for the remainder of the day.