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Student in building fall recovering; chimney to be enclosed

The chimney down which a freshman free fell 96 feet and survived will be completely enclosed with fencing, according to officials in the Safety Office and Department of Facilities. The current four-foot-high chain link fence that surrounds the opening will also remain in place.

The chimney, which has been on the Sloan School building since it was erected in 1938, has been inactive for many years. The building was acquired by MIT from Lever Brothers in 1951.

The freshman, who is from Pennsylvania, plunged down the chimney on November 28, suffering severe injuries to her left wrist and back. She landed in a two-foot pile of soot in the basement and remained conscious during the two-hour rescue operation, which was completed at about 5:40am. She was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital by ambulance.

She has had several rounds of surgery since the accident and remains in fair condition at MGH. Officials at the MIT Medical Department, who have maintained close contact with doctors at the hospital, said she did not appear to have suffered a head injury, damage to internal organs or significant spinal cord damage.

"This is indeed something of a miracle," said Rosalind H. Williams, dean of students and undergraduate education. "The outcome could have been much more tragic. Let us give thanks!"

The area of the roof where the accident occurred is above a penthouse, making the plunge to the basement the equivalent of an eight-story fall in the six-story building. The chimney is located in an inaccessible locked area and may be reached only through the penthouse mechanical room.

Campus Police said the student was on the roof with several friends, one of whom told police that they went up there to admire the view of the Boston skyline.

A friend of the victim called Campus Police at about 3:40am to report the incident. The student was removed by members of the Cambridge Fire and Rescue Unit two hours later, after they drilled through a concrete wall erected during a 1983 renovation to access an opening at the base of the chimney. Workers then shoveled through the soot to reach the student.

Campus Police, who are investigating the incident, said there was no evidence that the students had been drinking alcohol.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 8, 1999.

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