Mary Majcunich-Beasley
From left: Mary Majcunich-Beasley, Malia Beasley and Raymond Sikes celebrate Malia Beasley's high school graduation Saturday. Image Credit: Mary Majcunich-Beasley

After finishing her shift as an air traffic controller, Mary Majcunich-Beasley got into an elevator on the 12th floor of a Georgia airport and pressed the button for the first floor.

The elevator started descending before it jolted to a stop that night in April 2005. Majcunich-Beasley, who was seven months pregnant, took deep breaths, trying to remain calm.

"I didn't want anything bad to happen," Majcunich-Beasley told The Washington Post, "because emotions, especially when you're pregnant, can get the best of you."

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In the next hour, firefighters climbed to the air traffic control tower's 12th story and pried open the elevator doors so Majcunich-Beasley could crawl out. Paramedics cleared Majcunich-Beasley, who then drove home.

The event could've been a forgettable scare. But Majcunich-Beasley believed that rescue might have saved the life of her daughter, Malia Beasley, who was born that June.

Last week, Majcunich-Beasley was planning Malia's high school graduation party when she called the local fire department, searching for the fireman who led the 2005 rescue. She was connected with Deputy Chief Raymond Sikes, who remembered rescuing Majcunich-Beasley from the broken elevator.

At a Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport hangar Saturday, Majcunich-Beasley and Malia commended Sikes for his actions 18 years earlier.

"It's always been on the back of my mind; I wanted to get my daughter and him together," said Majcunich-Beasley, 53. "We get so busy in life that we don't go back and acknowledge that person."

Majcunich-Beasley had finished an eight-hour shift directing planes at the Savannah, Ga., airport on April 15, 2005, when she entered the air-traffic control tower's elevator around 10:20 p.m. When the elevator stopped, Majcunich-Beasley smelled something burning and feared there might be a fire. She used her training for directing planes in dangerous situations to remain calm.

"You compose yourself and you go, 'You know what? It is what it is,'" Majcunich-Beasley said. "You can't change it. You just hope help arrives sooner than later in that scenario."

Sikes, a sergeant at the time, was eating dinner with his colleagues from the 165th Airlift Wing Fire Department, which is based at the airport, when they received a call about the elevator jam. The building was evacuated, and planes were suspended from landing.

In the next hour, Sikes and his team reached the top of the tower, opened the elevator doors and extinguished an electrical fire in the elevator shaft. They then walked with Majcunich-Beasley down the 12 flights of stairs. Paramedics cleared Majcunich-Beasley minutes later, and she returned to her Richmond Hill, Ga., home around midnight.

For Sikes, the feat was a routine part of the job.

"Once the emergencies are over with, you don't really know what happens in those individual lives afterwards," Sikes said. "You do have to kind of reset and be prepared for the next emergency."

Sikes and Majcunich-Beasley barely spoke that night, but Sikes has described the incident to new firefighters to teach them how to approach similar situations.

Majcunich-Beasley thinks about her rescue whenever she sees an elevator on a TV show or movie. She journaled about the event and gave the passage to Malia to read when she was around 11 years old.

"I learned to appreciate it as I grew older," Malia said.

This month, Malia, 17, finished high school as a home-schooled student, and her family arranged a party in an airport hangar. Majcunich-Beasley, who retired in March 2021, thought the gathering would be a perfect chance to reconnect with the firefighter.

She explained the situation to an officer at the fire station and received Sikes's phone number. Majcunich-Beasley reconnected with Sikes early last week. Sikes, 51, immediately remembered her and the rescue.

"We're there in some of the worst times in people's lives during emergencies, and I don't think everybody wants to remember some of those events," Sikes said. "That's one of the first times that anybody's ever reached out from an event like that and invited me to something. To me, it was a big deal."

Over penne pasta, peanut butter blossom cookies and cake at Saturday's party, Malia and Majcunich-Beasley's other family members thanked and hugged Sikes - crediting his assistance 18 years ago with helping to ensure Malia enjoyed a healthy life.

In the fall, Malia will begin studying criminal justice at Montreat College in Montreat, N.C. After Saturday's party, Sikes anticipated the next get-together.

"I guess I'll see you at college graduation next," Sikes told Majcunich-Beasley.

"Expect that invite," Majcunich-Beasley responded.