New way of removing sick visitors from top of Statue of Liberty

(NBC) - It is called a 'Crown Rescue Device' for the Statue of Liberty, and it promises a quicker, easier way to get the sick or unwell down some of the most famous steps in the world.

"It's like an amusement park ride. Lot of fun, actually," said Nick Reisweber, 21, from Cortland, NY, and one of the eight West Point cadets who designed and built the modified body board as their senior class engineering project.

The challenge: some of the more unique steps in the world.

The double helix stairway leading from the Pedestal to the Crown of Lady Liberty and back down again count 146 steps each way that were originally designed simply for worker access, not for the public.

"There is no other staircase in the world like this, it's one of a kind," said Anthony Byrnes-Alvarado, a National Park Service EMT who has been stationed on Liberty Island for the past four years.

Each riser ranges from just a few inches to less than a foot deep as they corkscrew up and down the upper stretch of the iconic monument in New York Harbor. And they are only 23 inches wide.

That's barely enough for a healthy adult, let alone for rescue crews trying to bring down someone suffering from a heart attack or other ailment.

The inspiration for a sort of floating chair device that uses an extended arm draped over the outside handrail, and a small wheel underneath that balances on an inside baseboard came from a chance meeting 15 years ago.

EMT Alvarado was a boy scout at an annual West Point Jamboree, and assigned to then-cadet Mark DeRocchi.

DeRocchi now is a Major and a Civil Engineering instructor at West Point, and had a chance meeting with some family members of Alvarado a year or so ago.

The issue of the Crown came up, the two got together, and DeRocchi decided to make it a class project for his cadets last fall.

Six thousand dollars worth of materials later, along with hundreds, or perhaps thousands of hours of research and designing and testing later(including a 20 foot high mock up back at West Point that cost $70 thousand), the cadets donated their device to the Park Service.

"I'm so impressed with these young men and women. I'm looking forward to giving them their final grades," West Point cadets design special chair to rescue people stuck inside the Statue Of Liberty Crown," said Major DeRocchi.

He quickly added "It will be an 'A.'"

This Crown Rescue Device is only the beginning of major safety renovations for Lady Liberty.

Superintendent David Luchsinger said the Statue, but not the island or the museum, will be closed for a year after its 125th Anniversary celebration on October 28th of 2011.

"After the terrorist attack(of 9/11) we started reevaluating all of the life safety issues here at the statue," Luchsinger said.

An estimated $26 million will be spent in the Pedestal level to improve egress and make other safety changes before reopening of that area in late 2012.

The Park Service said attendance is up 7 percent so far at Liberty Island this year, and since the Crown reopened last July 4th, the 240 daily Crown tickets available on its website have been reserved weeks, and sometimes months in advance, according to spokesman Darren Boch.

These changes should allow the Park Service to increase the number of tickets available every day, but no one is saying by how much.

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