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Sentosa cable car tragedy 29th Jan 1983

Singapore experienced one of its worst disasters during the evening of 29 January 1983, when the cableway of the Sentosa cable-car system was struck by the derrick of the drillship Eniwetok as it was undocking from a wharf at the nearby Keppel Harbour.[1] The impact of the collision dislodged two of the 15 cable cars, which were travelling on the cableway at the time, and caused them to plunge into the sea below. One of the cars was empty, but the five passengers in the other car were killed.[2] Of the remaining 13 cars, one oscillated so violently that three of its seven passengers were thrown out. Two perished, but the third, a toddler, survived the ordeal.[3] Altogether, there were 13 people trapped in four cars – two cars over land and two over water – between Mount Faber and Sentosa.[4]

An all-night rescue operation, coordinated by then Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) colonel Lee Hsien Loong, was launched to rescue the trapped passengers. The mid-air rescue commenced at 12.45 am on 30 January, and involved the use of two military helicopters. From the helicopters, winchmen were lowered to the cable cars to bring the passengers up. One helicopter rescued the six passengers from the two cars over land, while the other evacuated the seven passengers from the two cars over water. The rescue operation was completed at about 3.30 am. All the rescued passengers were immediately taken to the Singapore General Hospital. Before the rescue operation was mounted, the rescue planning team had considered the option of using a fire brigade snorkel ladder and a floating crane to reach the stranded passengers. Another option was to send SAF commandos, in teams of two, to crawl along the cables to the cars, attach pulleys to the cables and then lower the passengers to safety with the help of other commandos below. These two options were dropped in favour of the helicopter mid-air rescue, although the commandos were the backup plan.[5]

A three-member commission of inquiry, headed by then High Court judge Justice Lai Kew Chai, was appointed on 5 February 1983 to investigate the cause of the disaster.[6] In its report, released on 30 December 1983, the commission noted that the accident was caused by a combination of factors, in particular, the failure of the pilot and the ship’s master to establish the actual height of the ship with the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA), as well as the failure of the towing mechanism that caused the ship to drift to the cableway.[7]

To prevent similar occurrences, the commission recommended various measures such as legislating and implementing new height restrictions for vessels entering Keppel Harbour. This was enforced by the PSA, which set the restriction at 52 m.[8] The PSA also designated the waterway in Keppel Harbour a Height Restriction Area and installed a laser system to determine the height of ships entering the area.[9] The Sentosa cable-car service resumed operations in August 1983 after almost seven months of extensive repairs and thorough tests.[10]

References
1. Singapore. (1984). Report of the commission of inquiry into the collision of the drillship Eniwetok with the Sentosa cableway on 29 January 1983 (pp. 32–33). Singapore: Marine Department. Call no.: RSING 623.89295957 SIN; Lee, P., et.al. (1983, January 30). Seven die as two cable cars plunge into sea. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Singapore. Report of the commission of inquiry into the collision of the drillship Eniwetok with the Sentosa cableway on 29 January 1983, 1984, pp. 32–33; Cable-cars drama – step by step. (1983, January 30). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Singapore. Report of the commission of inquiry into the collision of the drillship Eniwetok with the Sentosa cableway on 29 January 1983, 1984, pp. 32–33; The Straits Times, 30 Jan 1983, p. 1.
4. Singapore. Report of the commission of inquiry into the collision of the drillship Eniwetok with the Sentosa cableway on 29 January 1983, 1984, pp. 32–33; The Straits Times, 30 Jan 1983, p. 1.
5. Four options, then the go-ahead for choppers. (1983, January 31). The Straits Times, p. 8; 13 brought to safety by a brave team of men. (1983, January 31). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Singapore. (1983, February 11). Government Gazette. (G.N. 436). Singapore: [s.n.] (pp. 706–708). Call no.: RSING 959.57 SGG; Inquiry into Sentosa cable car tragedy gets under way. (1983, May 28). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Singapore. Report of the commission of inquiry into the collision of the drillship Eniwetok with the Sentosa cableway on 29 January 1983, 1984, pp. 35–39, 56, 59–60.
8. Singapore. (1985). Commission of inquiry into the Sentosa cable car accident: Report of committee on implementation of recommendations (pp. 1–2). Singapore: The Committee. Call no.: RCLOS 623.89295957 SIN; De Silva, G. (1985, June 6). Harbour bans ships over 52 m in heightThe Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Singapore. Commission of Inquiry into the Sentosa cable car accident: Report of committee on implementation of recommendations, 1985, pp. 1–2; Laser system to check height of ships entering Singapore. (1986, July 3). The Business Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Tsang, S.-Y. (1983, August 16). Cable cars roll againThe Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

 

The information in this article is valid as at 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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