In one of those faith-in-humanity restoring moments, a man trapped on the fifth floor of a New York building is alive today only because of a daring aerial rescue carried out by total strangers.
The whole dramatic scene was captured on a cell phone video, seen below.
It was Monday afternoon in Washington Heights, a working-class neighborhood in the uppermost section of Manhattan island. A workman, whose name hasn’t yet come out publicly, was refinishing floors in a fifth-floor apartment owned by Jose Becquer when suddenly, the room exploded in flame.
“And I hear it, ‘Help me! Help me! Please help me!” said Roscindo Lopez, superintendent of the adjacent building. He saw the man, hishead sticking out the window, desperate. As black smoke billowed out the window, the man crawled out, with nothing between himself and the pavement, about 50 feet below.
"I could see in his eyes, panic. He was about to jump," said eyewitness Victor Peralta.
But the man was desperate. He crawled out further and in moments was dangling from the windowsill.
“I say, ’Please, please, please – wait, wait, wait, wait,’” Lopez said.
By this time, Lopez and another man, Guardencio Portillo, rushed into action. Using a ladder that Lopez kept in the building, they climbed the fire escape. They were level with the dangling man.
They then angled the ladder between the two buildings, forming a shaky walkway in the air.
Portillo then courageously stepped out on to the ladder and walked across the divide, angling himself into position to lower the man to relative safety on the ladder. The two then stepped into the window of another apartment.
Firefighters didn’t show up until the rescue was over. The worker is now in serious but stable condition at a nearby hospital.
Portillo and Lopez shrugged off questions about their heroic actions.
“Most importantly, he’s good, the guy,” Lopez said.