NORMAL — A 45-year-old woman lost her grip and fell to her death after climbing scaffolding about two-thirds of the way up the side of the 28-story Watterson Towers on Sunday night, authorities said.
After she plunged to the ground, Normal Fire Department paramedics rushed to the aid of the individual and found no obvious signs of life, McLean County Coroner Beth Kimmerling said.
The coroner and other officials gave no explanation of why the woman was climbing the scaffolding.
Illinois State University spokesman Jay Groves confirmed the woman was not an ISU student, but declined to release any other details.
ISU police and the McLean County coroner’s office are investigating.
Kimmerling said that about 5:45 p.m. a 911 call was received about a person climbing the east-side of the 28-story Watterson Towers.
Normal police, ISU police and the Normal Fire Department were dispatched to the scene.
“Shortly after rescue personnel’s arrival, this individual lost their grip and fell approximately 200 feet,” Kimmerling said in a prepared statement.
“At this time, there are no signs of third party involvement or foul play,” Kimmerling said.
The coroner’s office was notified of the incident and it personnel arrived on the scene to pronounce the death of the victim at 6:30 p.m.
The woman was in the community visiting relatives, Kimmerling said. Although the victim’s Bloomington-Normal family has been made aware of her death, Kimmerling said the woman’s identity would not be released until today after other members of her immediate family have been contacted.
After the woman was seen climbing the scaffolding leading to the roof on the east side of the dorm, police began blocking off the street. Witnesses saw the woman stop climbing, lean away from the scaffolding and appear to leap. She dropped to the Fell Avenue side of the building.
A brisk wind and a cold rain didn’t stop people from gathering and trying to determine what was happening.
“You could tell it was something really out of the ordinary because people were all looking up,” said Tammy Augustine of Normal. “I thought it was some kind of fire or fire alarm at Watterson. It was quiet, and then all of a sudden, people started saying, ‘Oh no.’”
The university initially provided few details about the incident.
“We can confirm an unidentified individual died as a result of the fall from scaffolding used on the Watterson Towers construction site,” Groves said.
He later confirmed that the woman was not an ISU student.
The coroner said an autopsy has been scheduled for today.
Watterson Towers is one of the tallest dormitories in the world and was completed in 1967. In 2008, the board of trustees approved a $28.5 million renovation project.
Work is focusing on mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems for the north and south towers. Exterior and interior spaces are also being renovated, and buildings will be equipped with a new sprinkler system and increased alarm systems.
Sunday’s incident is believed to be the first death as a result of a fall from the towers since a student died in November 1994 after going through his window on the 13th floor.