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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Schindler executive apologizes over fatal accident


Staff writer

Nine days after a teenage boy died in an elevator accident, executives of the Schindler Group expressed their condolences to the victim's family Monday and apologized for not appearing before the public sooner.

News photo
Roland Hess (center), president of the Schindler Group's Escalator and Elevator Division, holds a news conference Monday in Tokyo.

"We apologize that we did not provide sufficient information up to now. Our focus was to get all the facts together before making any comments," said Roland Hess, president of Schindler's Escalator and Elevator Division in Switzerland.

At a news conference at a Tokyo hotel, Hess apologized for skipping a meeting with residents of the Tokyo condo where Hirosuke Ichikawa, 16, was crushed to death.

"Our thoughts are with the victim and his family. We pray for him and extend our condolences to the family involved in this tragic accident," Hess said.

The news conference came after investigators raided the Tokyo office of Schindler Elevator K.K. for suspected professional negligence. Schindler Elevator is a unit of the Switzerland-based group.

With criminal charges a possibility, the accident has caused finger-pointing between Schindler, Minato Ward's public housing corporation, which operates the building, and the company that handles the elevator's maintenance.

Schindler executives have repeatedly denied the elevator's design or installation was at fault. Hess stuck to his defense of the elevator's design Monday.

"We have never had a serious accident or fatality due to product design error," Hess said.

But during the news conference, Tomoyuki Nishimura, division manager of Schindler Elevator's New Installation Division, admitted that malfunctions in April involving a Schindler elevator in a condo in Hachioji, Tokyo, ceased after the company changed the control panel.

"We cannot deny at this point the possibility that there may have been a problem with the control circuit" in the Minato Ward incident, he said.

Ichikawa died June 3 after the elevator suddenly ascended as he was backing out with his bike on the 12th floor. He died of skull fractures after his head got caught between the floor of the elevator and the door frame.

The public reaction took Schindler by surprise, Hess indicated.

"I understand this is a country that reacts very strongly to such a horrific accident, due to Japan's very high standards," Hess said in English. "They are entitled to feel unhappy when an accident like this happens and entitled to answers." He added the public reaction here has been stronger than in other countries.

Schindler's priority shortly after the accident was to cooperate with police to find out what caused the accident, he said.

According to Hess, seven to eight out of every 10 fatalities involving Schindler elevators are caused by passengers who fall down the shaft while trying to escape from a stalled elevator.

The remaining two to three are caused by maintenance errors, he said.



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