NEW YORK – A 12-year-old girl who fell into a chimney on her Manhattan rooftop and plummeted down the flue for 14 stories survived almost unscathed when she landed in a pile of furnace soot — a moment of amazing grace that matches her name.
Grace Bergere, a young rock drummer, was recovering at a New York hospital on Saturday with an injured hip. But after the harrowing urban drama, she should soon be back to banging out a beat and walking around her West Village neighborhood.
A two-foot-deep pile of ash and dust may have saved Grace's life, cushioning her fall when she crashed into a basement furnace, fire officials said.
"I broke my leg! I broke my leg!" she yelled out after rescuers spotted her soot-caked hand reaching out for help.
Fire Chief Austin Horan said the 12-year-old emerged "relatively unscathed" from the accident Thursday night at the Westbeth Artists Housing complex that houses artists, including Grace's jazz guitarist father, Steve Berger.
"It's a miracle — it's an absolute miracle," he said later.
Firefighters responding to a 911 call never expected to find the girl alive.
While her father screamed her name, they opened a little metal door at the bottom of the chimney, ready for the worst.
When Grace's small hand poked out, "I just jumped back," Lt. Simon Ressner told reporters on Friday. "I wasn't expecting anybody alive at the bottom of the shaft, so I was shocked."
When they pulled her out, Grace was completely covered in black, with only her eyes and mouth visible.
She said she was having a hard time breathing and was afraid her neck might be broken; they placed a neck brace on her and gave her oxygen.
By then, her mother had rushed to her side, crying while her father comforted the hurt child as paramedics rushed her to the hospital.
The rooftop adventure started at about 10:30 p.m.. when Grace decided to show her cousin visiting from California the spectacular view of the city from the top of the family's apartment building, which has a rooftop deck overlooking the Hudson River.
To get to the highest point, she climbed up a 25-foot ladder alongside the big brick chimney. When she reached the top, there was a surprise: the gaping mouth of the chimney that swallowed her, sending her plunging down the narrow flue into the basement.
"I think she probably went down head first and landed on her back," Ressner said.
Grace was recovering at Manhattan's Bellevue Hospital Center on Saturday, talking to visitors and watching TV, but still in pain. She was reported in fair condition.
It's not the first time the girl's name was of interest to the public.
Grace was featured in a 2006 Associated Press article about the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls in Manhattan. While there for a week, she started a band called the Fluffy Skulls with friends, took instrument lessons and wrote songs.
She also has performed with the New York City Opera children's chorus, but apparently found rock 'n' roll drumming more exciting.
"It's more wild and not angel-like," she said then, adding, "I love making buttons and shirts and playing drums. I mean, I learned how to play drums completely."