BY JONATHAN LEMIRE
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
For 81 agonizing hours last April, Chinese food deliveryman Ming Kuang Chen remained trapped in a stalled Bronx elevator, unable to summon the help needed to escape his nightmarish confinement.
Now, 10 months after being rescued during a massive manhunt that captivated the city, he has fled New York, fearful of returning because of both his status as an illegal immigrant and the emotional scars from his harrowing ordeal.
“[Chen] is an eternal optimist, but he has been through a lot and none of it was of his own making,” said City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), who has acted as the deliveryman’s confidant and spokesman.
Chen, 35, paid $60,000 to be smuggled into the United States from China, a fact that was made public during last year’s search, prompting him to move out of the metropolitan area for fear of being deported.
Working in the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant outside of New York – but no longer making deliveries – Chen only rarely ventures into the city, said Liu, who doesn’t know exactly where he’s living.
Chen’s seemingly improbable experience began the night of April Fools’ Day, a Friday, when he biked from the Happy Dragon restaurant on Jerome Ave. to the nearby Tracey Towers, carrying a $15 food order.
He rode the elevator to the 35th floor, delivered the food to an off-duty cop and stepped back onto the lift. The express elevator, which had a history of malfunctions, then lurched to a halt between the third and fourth floors of the 38-story building.
Chen began frantically using the intercom to call for help, but his cries were either ignored or – because Chen was speaking Chinese – not understood.
With no food or water, Chen desperately banged on the elevator’s thick walls and tried to position himself in front of its security camera as the hours ticked by. Teams of cops swarmed the building looking for him, but no one heard him.
Then, early Tuesday morning, firefighters responded to an alarm coming from the elevator. Inside, they found a dehydrated Chen and managed to pull him to safety.
Though questions about the delay in Chen’s discovery remain, Liu believes the former deliveryman is now more concerned with putting the nightmare behind him.
“He still has fears; he hates the dark and won’t get into elevators alone,” Liu said. “But he hopes his wife and son can join him soon so he can continue to pursue his American dream.”
Copyright 2006 The New York Daily News