My friend’s Mike and Suzy were having a conjoined birthday party at their apartment.  The party was going good, we played a few rounds of flip cup and devoured an awesome chocolate cake.  Around 2 am we were ready to head out and enjoy some Panama City nightlife.  There was a good party going on at the roof top of Hard Rock Hotel so we decided that would be a good place to head to.

We all pour into the elevator of my friends apartment and our large group didn’t really fit at first, the elevator is pretty small.  But we screamed “Suck it in! We can get everyone down at once!”  So packed like sardines, we squeezed another couple people in.  Someone commented about the sign that said “Maximum 8 people” but we decided our group of 11 was invincible enough for this to not apply to us.

The elevator doors close and we are all starting to sweat from everyone’s body heat, so I can’t wait to get off.  The elevator begins it’s departure to the lobby .  Piso 9 – Piso 8 – Piso 7.

Then it just stops.

That awkward moment of panic sets in.  We all kind of laugh and joke at first and then push the alarm button so that someone could quickly come to our rescue.  But apparently the alarm button is useless and only makes a loud siren noise.  It is getting hotter, people are starting to hyperventilate and panic, and it is becoming increasing more difficult to breath as the minutes keep going by.


Suzy places a call to Rolando, who was smart enough not to get into the elevator to have him call outside help.  Arturo called his dad as well and screamed for him to do whatever he could to get us out.  But by this moment we are really panicking.  One of the guys climbs up on someone’s shoulders to remove the ceiling tile so we can get some more air in.  This did not play out like in the movies where behind the tile is the exit to the elevator shaft: it was solid concrete.

In a group effort we try prying open the elevator doors but we can only get a temporary crack.  I pulled off my shoes and stuffed them into the crack while someone held the doors open. This little half inch crack would be our air supply for the next two hours.

This was by far the most uncomfortable/claustrophobic moment in my life. The air was hot and heavy, we couldn’t move, and a huge puddle of sweat was forming on the floor as our bodies dehydrated.  Vision was becoming blurry and I was trying hard not to pass out.  What if thoughts were going through my mind. What if they can’t get us out for another 5 hours?  What if the elevator falls from the weight of us?

Everyone is becoming delirious.  One guy is on the floor sucking in air through the crack, my friend William faints, and another friend is crying hysterically.  We have to get out of here.  Arturo and Suzy continued making outside calls for help but people on the other end  just keep telling us they will be there soon.

We finally get the news that help has officially arrived; just hearing that was such a huge relief.  They actually got the doors open pretty quickly and the rush of fresh air felt amazing.  The workers helped pull our weak bodies from the elevator and I was so relieved to be out of that hell.

We hung around at Suzy’s for about an hour laughing and joking at what had just happened now that we could do that.  That was my first time being trapped in an elevator but I am happy it was in the company of some good friends.

Experience Panama


I'm Joey, a guy from Louisville, Kentucky that packed up and studied abroad in Panamá at the age of 20 and haven't moved back since. What started as a semester trip to Panamá has turned into 7+ years of living in Latin America and becoming a full-time travel blogger. Follow me on Instagram @joeybonura for more updates on my life abroad!

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