When the ceiling panel landed just inches from Cianna Navarro’s feet at the Harvard subway station, it created a cloud of black soot and dust that coated her white Converse sneakers.
Moments later, she could taste it in her mouth.
Luckily for Navarro, a pair of “ruined” shoes and a bitter taste were the only physical impacts from the terrifying moment when she was nearly struck by a 25-pound insulation panel that came crashing down inside the MBTA Red Line stop last week. Rather than dwelling on how close she came to being injured, she has focused on the positive.
“As scary as it was, I can acknowledge that it could have been worse,” said Navarro, 21. “At the end of the day, I’m grateful the situation played out how it did because it could have been a lot different.”
As video footage of her razor-close encounter continued to ricochet across the Internet on Monday, getting picked up by media outlets as far away as BBC News, Navarro reflected on the jarring moment that led to a systemwide inspection of similar panels and intense backlash from fellow passengers who have grown increasingly frustrated with the MBTA’s poor infrastructure.
Navarro, a senior who is studying accounting at Suffolk University, said she doesn’t typically ride the Red Line. As an Allston resident, she mostly relies on the Green Line trolleys to get around.
But last Wednesday she was running errands that took her to a craft store in Porter Square, so she took the Red Line to Harvard Square to catch a bus back home.
Around 4 p.m., moments after exiting her southbound train, Navarro was stopped square in her tracks when the large panel dislodged overhead, landing directly at her toes.
A plume of black dust went up around her as several people nearby, startled by the loud bang, walked quickly up the stairs.
“One of them actually turned around to ask if I was OK,” she said. “I remember telling him, ‘Physically, yes, I’m fine, but I’m really shaken up.’”
After speaking to him, she tasted “a lot of dirt and debris that had fallen from the ceiling panel.”
She was “quite disgusted.”
A video clip of the incident shows Navarro, who is from Connecticut, making an abrupt stop before she briefly assesses the situation and walks around the debris and towards the exit.
In the shock of the moment, she appeared almost unfazed. As one commenter put it, “The response of ...’Ok. Moving On.’ is just so perfectly Boston.”
But in reality, the gravity of what happened didn’t sink in until Navarro had gotten outside.
“At that moment I didn’t really know what was going on, or what had fallen. I was kind of just frozen in shock,” she said. “It took me a few minutes of just standing outside to gather myself from what I had just experienced.”
Navarro said she has not been contacted by MBTA officials about what happened.
MBTA Interim General Manager Jeff Gonneville said last week that corrosion likely caused the insulation panel to fall.
At a press conference on the day the video was released, officials vowed to inspect similar panels across the system and remove them as necessary. As of March 5, 76 ceiling panels at Harvard station had been removed “out of an abundance of caution,” the MBTA said.
A full audit is expected to be complete within a couple of weeks, they said.
“We are extremely fortunate that there wasn’t an injury as a result of this,” Gonneville said Friday, noting that the aluminum panels dated to the late 1970s. “It was very close.”
Navarro knows that better than anyone. Although she didn’t think too much about it until the video footage was released.
“When I had first seen the footage, it kind of felt like the shock all over again — of realizing how close the ceiling actually was to me and understanding the severity of the situation,” she said. “Finding out that it weighed up to 25 pounds of aluminum — and whatever else was in the ceiling — it kind of made me grateful.”
While she’s quick to say it was a scary situation, Navarro has at times found herself laughing with friends about how far and wide the video has spread — and the accompanying comments about her low-key reaction.
“A lot of my friends are taking screenshots of things that they see online and sending it to me and sending it to our group chat,” she said. “I’m able to make these jokes and see some light of the situation because I was able to walk away unharmed.”
As for her future relationship with the state’s beleaguered transit system, Navarro said this “shouldn’t have had to happen for safety procedures to be put in place,” yet she doesn’t think poorly about the MBTA and still plans to ride the rails as needed.
But she hasn’t worn her sneakers since.
“They are still pretty dirty,” she said.