That is where Jennifer Rosoff was shortly before 1 a.m. on Thursday, having retired to her 17th-floor balcony in Midtown with a man she had just met for a first date. As they talked, she casually hoisted herself atop the wide metal railing, cigarette in hand.
The conversation shifted. Perhaps she should be more careful, he suggested. It is not a problem, she assured him. She had done this many times before.
Then Ms. Rosoff was gone.
She fell 140 feet to the construction scaffolding at the base of the building, at 400 East 57th Street, and died from the impact. The police said there was no appearance of foul play; the railing, bent down hard at the corner, was still evident on Thursday, a fearful sight. The death of Ms. Rosoff, 35, whom a friend described as “an A-player” in the competitive world of media advertising sales, immediately rippled across the cellphones and in-boxes of distraught friends and colleagues.
It also summoned forth the perilous possibilities and primal fears intrinsic to New York. The jut of an apartment balcony hanging over cavernous streets. The rush of traffic. The oncoming subway train.
“To be in a densely crowded, fast-paced vertical city is to experience all kinds of vulnerabilities,” said Eric Klinenberg, a professor of sociology at New York University whose areas of interest include urban studies and risk. “We inure ourselves against almost all of them because we do it so often. People sit on ledges all the time and nothing happens to them, tiptoe across the yellow line at the subway stop without consequences and jaywalk without being hit by a bus.”
The Department of Buildings immediately issued an order barring all other residents of the building from going onto their balconies, which it characterized as “imminently perilous to life.” A department spokeswoman said inspectors were still investigating the cause of the collapse.
“Right now, detectives believe that she was sitting on a defective balcony railing, causing her to fall to her death,” Paul J. Browne, the chief spokesman for the Police Department, said.
The 20-story rental apartment building was bought recently by Stonehenge, a company that owns and manages properties around Manhattan. Stonehenge is doing extensive renovations, primarily on the inside of the building, the Department of Buildings said.
After a deadly fall from a Midtown balcony occurred in 2010, the Department of Buildings began an extensive round of safety reviews and found that hundreds of building owners had failed to file required inspection reports on their balconies. Residents of more than a dozen buildings were then ordered to stop using them.
That round of intensive scrutiny by the department followed the death of Connor Donohue, 24, who fell from a 24th-floor balcony at 330 East 39th Street in March 2010. The department found in that case that the company that managed the building had not filed a proper inspection report in 10 years.
The department said that an inspection report had been filed for Ms. Rosoff’s building in February, several months late; the company incurred a $250 penalty.
“This is a tragedy and our sincere condolences go out to the family and friends of Ms. Rosoff,’’ Richard Dansereau, the managing director of Stonehenge Management, said in a statement. “I am trying to reach out to the family to express these sentiments personally. We are cooperating fully with the investigation into the cause of this terrible accident.”
A Tulane University graduate, Ms. Rosoff worked at Lucky magazine and The New Yorker before taking a job at TripleLift, a new media advertising start-up of about 15 people. “Her tremendous energy and humor brought so much joy to the office,” the chief executive, Eric Berry, said in a statement.
Friends and relatives described Ms. Rosoff, the middle sister in a family of three girls who grew up in Huntington, Long Island, as driven in her career and intensely athletic. “Jenn was a force to be reckoned with, smart, dynamic and charismatic,” Lisa Hughes, the publisher of The New Yorker, said.
A friend in the ad sales industry, who requested anonymity because of the delicacy of the situation, said Ms. Rosoff had been a mentor to young people in the field. “I hate in situations like this when people want to bury saints, but she was a great person,” the friend said. “I was meeting someone for coffee today and the second they got off the elevator they said: ‘I had the worst e-mail. The subject was Jenn Rosoff died.’ ”
Her death also resonated with those who lived in nearby high-rise apartments, many with their own balconies. “I think anybody who has a balcony always thinks about what could happen,” said Gerald Eskenazi, 76, who lives with his wife, Rosalind, on the 19th floor of a building a block away. “I have to believe it’s a one-off,” he added. “Quite honestly, I don’t think this is going to frighten people.”
Natasha Kavanagh, who said she lived in an apartment adjacent to Ms. Rosoff’s, said she returned home around midnight and, soon after, heard a loud noise outside. She said she opened her window for a look but did not see anything.
Michaelle Bond contributed reporting.