On the way to the last event of her wedding weekend, Victoria Jha started panicking.
Minutes before, she and her new husband, Panav, had gotten into an elevator with a group headed up to the rooftop of the Grand Bohemian Hotel in Charlotte to celebrate with the rest of their guests.
But the elevator came to a stop after moving up just a few feet. No matter what they tried, it didn’t budge.
Victoria sank to the floor. She closed her eyes, taking deep breaths to calm herself.
The Jhas, both 31, were stuck for about two hours before Charlotte fire crews rescued them and four others from the elevator. They never made it to their last party of the weekend, which was set to be the final celebration after their two weddings — one a Western, Christian ceremony and the other an Indian, Hindu one.
“They were just magical,” Victoria said. “Something of course had to go wrong in these two days to make it that, it’s reality. It’s not a dream.”
The couple met in 2017 during medical school at St. Matthew’s University in the Cayman Islands — and “the rest is history,” Victoria said.
Now six years later, they live nearly 700 miles apart doing their medical residencies — Victoria in Fort Mill, S.C., and Panav in Rockford, Ill. — but decided to bring their loved ones, some they hadn’t seen in years, together in North Carolina to see them get married.
Most of their wedding weekend went off without a hitch.
During their first ceremony on Friday at the Crystal Ballroom in Charlotte, Victoria and Panav said their vows underneath a canopy of white flowers, petals filling the path to the altar. They’d requested that guests not record the vows, hoping to keep them personal and intimate.
Victoria had memorized her three-minute long vows.
“She really made me look not nearly as good, but that’s fine,” Panav said.
“It’s natural,” Victoria quipped. “When it’s out of love, what’s three minutes to memorize?”
The next day, both donned traditional Indian clothing for their second ceremony at the Grand Bohemian Hotel. They completed the wedding rituals and held a reception, dancing through the night.
They had the reception ballroom until 11 p.m. Afterward, they’d told everyone who wanted to stay longer to head to the rooftop bar on the hotel’s 16th floor.
Before the weekend even began, Victoria and Panav had made a pact to be attached at the hip. Going to each event, greeting every table after the ceremonies, gathering guests for dances — they’d do it all together.
“We did not separate once during the nights,” Victoria said.
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So on Saturday night, they went back to their hotel room together to freshen up quickly before the after-party, where they would say farewell to family, since many were flying out early the next morning.
The newlyweds, along with Panav’s best friend and Victoria’s sister, made their way to the first floor, where they met two other friends and a family member who were also on the way up.
The group started piling into the elevator.
But the first sign of trouble came when the doors closed rapidly, before the family member could get in, leaving the other six people wondering what had happened.
Then, they moved up only a few feet before the elevator got stuck. When the doors opened about a foot, they could see the entire elevator shaft.
“And that’s when I was like, ‘Okay, that’s not good,’” Panav said.
They tried hitting the close door and help buttons, hoping the elevator would start moving again. But it was to no avail. Ten minutes passed. Then 20. Ultimately, Nicole Ivantchev, Victoria’s sister and the maid of honor, called 911.
Victoria and Panav’s hopes that it would be a “quick fix” dissipated. They started to wonder when help would arrive. They worried they’d miss the after-party, miss the chance to say goodbye to relatives who’d traveled hundreds of miles to see them married.
Victoria was sitting in the corner of the elevator, trying to settle the nerves and anxiety she was feeling, when she looked up at her husband.
“He’s the last person to ever get stressed or annoyed or bothered,” she said. “So once I saw that on him, that reaction and emotion, an immediate switch on me. Everything else was just a blur.”
The Charlotte Fire Department received a call about the group being trapped in the elevator after midnight on Sunday. When the first crew got to the hotel, they tried to reset the elevator and recycle the power, but “nothing seemed to work,” Capt. Stephen Pritchard told The Washington Post.
The team called for backup.
To safely get everyone out of the elevator, the crews realized they’d need to build a pulley system. They set up a rig on the fifth floor and lifted each person one by one, with a firefighter accompanying them.
Ivantchev, the first person rescued, told the firefighters to bring her sister — “the one in the wedding dress” — up next, the fire department said when it announced the rescue.
When Panav was finally pulled out, Victoria recalled running to embrace him, relieved that, although it wasn’t the night they pictured, it was over.
Pritchard has done similar elevator rescues a few times before, he said, but never at a wedding.
“It was a special rescue for us because we got to help the bride and groom,” Pritchard said. “And give them something to talk about years down the road.”
And that’s exactly what the Jhas plan to do.
“My joke is like, to the kids, ‘Your mom’s so fire, they had to call the fire department to come put her out,’” Panav said.