A photographer fell into this chimney at the Hotel Intercontinental on Thursday. (CBS)

A photographer fell into this chimney at the Hotel Intercontinental on Thursday. (CBS)

UPDATED: 12/12/12 – 3:20 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — A young man trying to take pictures atop a Michigan Avenue hotel died Thursday morning after falling into a smokestack.

Fire crews cut a hole in the chimney about 42 stories above Michigan Avenue, before freeing the 23-year-old and taking him to the hospital, officials said. He was taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 5:15 a.m., according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office.

The victim was identified as Nicholas Wieme, of 4820 N. Albany Av., according to the medical examiner’s office. He was originally from Pipestone, Minn., which is located in the southwest portion of the state near South Dakota.

Wieme was a graduate of Minnesota State University in Moorhead, according to his family. In college, he began doing stand-up comedy, and after graduating he moved to Chicago to do improv, performing at several different establishments.

Nick Wieme (Credit: CBS)

Nick Wieme (Credit: CBS)


“Nick’s amazing talents were only topped by fierce love and loyalty to his family and friends,” his brother Jamie said in an email. “Nick was truly a family man, a phenomenal friend (as literally hundreds would attest to), and would do anything to help anyone. When it came to people, Nick’s as good as they come. Nick was simply amazing, always looking out very EVERYONE besides himself. People gravitated to him. Everyone loved Nick, and Nick loved everyone. The word ‘special’ doesn’t do my brother justice.”

Police and fire crews responded to the InterContinental Hotel at 505 North Michigan Avenue at 1:09 a.m. Thursday and found Wieme had fallen into a smokestack while attempting to take photos on the roof of the hotel, Fire Media Affairs said. Wieme was in an area above a 42nd-floor balcony that is closed off from the general public.

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“It took four hours and the coordination of more than 100 firefighters and paramedics to reach him,” said Michael Fox, the Chicago Fire Department’s chief of special operations.

Sources told CBS 2 Wieme was with his girlfriend last night; the two had dinner and drinks at the Michael Jordan’s Steak House next door to the hotel, then decided to go to the top of the hotel to check out the smokestack.

When he got to the top of the chimney, Wieme thought he had stepped on a ledge, but fell down the extremely hot shaft, and suffered burns throughout his body.

Sources said the hotel turned off the boiler as soon as they learned Wieme had fallen into the chimney.

The hotel has a hospitality suite in an area just below the smokestack. Video from Chopper 2 HD shows that there is a metal ladder that leads up to the smokestack. It is unclear how Wieme got into the restricted hospitality suite and then outside to climb up.

North Michigan Avenue was closed Thursday morning between Illinois Street and Grand Avenue while fire crews attempted the rescue, according to Fire Media Affairs. About 100 CFD personnel were on scene.

The street was reopened before 6 a.m.

Wieme had apparently climbed on top of the InterContinental hotel’s iconic dome and somehow gotten onto a chimney. He fell 22 feet into the chimney before striking an angle in the structure, authorities said. The chimney drops off 42 floors after the angle.

“We had to send members from the top down on ropes to assess his condition,” Fox said. “The whole time, we’re monitoring the situation for toxic gases.”

The Fire Department cut a hole below Wieme and inserted wood beams to keep him from falling.

“We had to cut a hole in the duct work and then slide him down the duct work,” Fox said. “It turned very precarious, because two foot after where we made the hole was a drop that would have went 42 floors to the basement, so it took us a little time to cut the hole in the right spot, and shore it up, so when we brought him out he would not fall into the basement.”

Wieme had been calling and sending messages to his girlfriend throughout the ordeal. He was also talking to firefighters and paramedics during the rescue operation, but apparently lost consciousness before he was pulled out, because he stopped talking to firefighters at one point.

Hotel guests on Thursday morning had no idea what was happening while they slept.

“We had no idea … so if they were trying to keep it quiet they did a good job,” said Jenn Hutchins, who was visiting from Florida. “I hope that his family gets through the holiday season. That’s a terrible thing to have to go through for anybody.”

Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report