News Column

Man Dies After Falling Down Smokestack of Chicago Hotel

Dec. 13, 2012

Peter Nickeas

A man trying to take a photo from the top of the Intercontinental Hotel on Michigan Avenue died Thursday after falling 22 feet down a smokestack, authorities said.

It took rescue crews four hours to remove Nicholas Wieme, 23. At one point, they cut through a wall and wedged boards in the chute to keep him from falling farther.

Covered in a white sheet, Wieme was wheeled into an ambulance inside the hotel's basement garage around 5:05 a.m. CST and taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, according to the Fire Department and the Cook County medical examiner's office.

Rescue crews responded to the hotel about 1:10 a.m. after someone called and reported a person threatening to jump from the roof. Firefighters later learned Wieme had fallen down the smokestack, according to Fire Department spokeswoman Meg Ahlheim.

A "confined space rescue" was called, bringing 30 companies and about 125 firefighters and paramedics to the scene.

They discovered Wieme had fallen 22 feet down a 6-foot wide smokestack and was wedged where the chute angled before dropping 42 floors, Ahlheim said.

"We had to send members from the top down on ropes to assess his condition. The whole time we're monitoring the situation for toxic gases," said Special Operations Chief Michael Fox. "We found the best way to get out him was to go about two floors below, and we had to cut the duct work for the chimney, which was made out of steel. And eventually we ended up sliding the victim down into the hole and removing him from the building."

Wieme was able to communicate with his girlfriend, either with phone calls or text messages, Ahlheim said, but firefighters lost contact with him around 3:15 a.m.

Wieme and his girlfriend had dined on Michigan Avenue Wednesday evening and then decided to "explore" the hotel, according to a source. They took the elevator up and somehow were able to get on the roof, authorities said.

Wieme grew up in Minnesota but recently lived on the North Side of Chicago. He was an aspiring comedian who posted several of his routines online. On Wednesday night, he posted a message to his Facebook page that he was eating at Michael Jordan's restaurant with his girlfriend.

Source: (c)2012 Chicago Tribune Distributed by Mclatchy-Tribune News Service.

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