First crash at Kallang Airport



A Qantas-BOAC Constellation G-ALAM airliner named Able Mike crashed during its landing at the now-defunct Kallang Airport on 13 March 1954 at 3.04 pm. The plane was making a scheduled flight from Sydney to London and had stopped over at Darwin, Australia, and Jakarta, Indonesia, before making its way to Singapore.1 The crash, which was the first major air disaster in Kallang Airport’s history, resulted in 33 fatalities – all 31 passengers as well as two crew members were killed. Seven crew members, including the pilot Captain Trevor William Hoyle, survived the crash.2

The crash
The accident was triggered by the aircraft landing just 10 ft (about 3 m) short of the threshold line of Runway 06. The resulting impact against a tarred ridge caused an excessive strain on the undercarriage of the aircraft and this likely disrupted its integral fuel tank. The plane then became airborne, before touching the ground again some distance further along the runway. On the second impact, the starboard (right side) gear collapsed, causing the right wing to go down and the propellers to hit the runway. The aircraft continued sliding until the edge of the runway, then it tilted sharply to its right and began rolling. As it overturned, the right wing broke off and the tailplane snapped. When the aircraft finally came to a standstill, it was completely inverted and fires had broken out in a number of its compartments, including the detached right wing, the tail and soon afterwards the left wing.3


Rescue operations
There was a slight delay before the first rescue personnel reached the wreckage. Despite being stationed near the runway, the two fire vehicles of the airport fire service arrived at the scene only about two minutes later. This was because of the longer route that the leading fireman took. He had left the fire station upon realising that the aircraft was probably going to crash and decided on the route based on his judgement of where it would come to rest.4

The city fire brigade’s fire engine that was despatched from Geylang arrived some 10 minutes after the crash, followed by two others sent from the Hill Street Fire Station.5 The arrival of the fire brigade was delayed because the airport control tower did not notify them immediately after the crash but instead called for assistance several minutes later.6

When the airport fire service reached the scene, seven crew members including the pilot were already trying to escape from the burning aircraft.7 Some of the escaped crew members made their way around the aircraft to try to free the passengers still trapped inside. However, they could open neither the main passenger door nor the hatch of the rear pressure bulkhead (which had become exposed after the tailplane broke off). Two of the crew members also tried to cut a hole into the compartment just behind the cockpit in a bid to free a female colleague. A group of people, including airline officers, ground engineers and spectators, who were at the airport at the time soon joined in the effort. Using axes and other implements, they eventually succeeded, but the female crew member later died in hospital.8

Other civilians, together with the firemen and police who arrived later, tried to create openings, using mostly axes at various points of the fuselage to reach the trapped passengers. Two passengers, one of whom was still alive at that point, were extricated through such openings even as an unchecked flame that had broken out at the left wing penetrated the cabin. Another passenger was rescued through the rear pressure bulkhead when it was finally opened later. The 28 passengers who remained trapped inside perished in the fire, while the two surviving passengers died before reaching the hospital.9

Investigations and findings
Five days after the disaster, the government announced that a public inquiry would be conducted to find out the causes and circumstances of the crash. Presided over by then High Court judge Clifford Knight, the inquiry was held over 49 days from 31 May 1954 to 16 August 1954.10 In the final report, which was submitted to then Singapore Governor John Nicoll on 20 September 1954 and released to the public on 16 November 1954, the inquiry commission concluded that, although the crash was caused by pilot error, it was the inadequate ground response after the crash that led to the high death toll. It was believed that many of the trapped passengers could have been saved if the crew members and fire rescuers had received better training and equipment to handle such an emergency.11


The public inquiry commission did not find any conclusive indication that the pilot’s error in judgement was due to chronic fatigue from having been on duty for over 21 hours. Nonetheless, the commission recommended that a study be done on pilot fatigue and that measures be taken to provide all crew members with adequate rest.12 Other recommendations included training crew members in evacuation procedures in the event of a crash, as well as providing the airport fire service with better equipment and training. The inquiry commission also suggested that Kallang Airport make improvements to its runways and amend its crash orders to include the immediate calling of medical assistance in the event of an accident.13

Kallang Airport accepted the commission’s recommendations and implemented most of them before the report was even made public. For instance, the crash orders were amended as suggested and new equipment for breaking into crashed aircraft was acquired. The airport fire service also received new and latest equipment and the firemen were put through rigorous training.14 In 1958, after testing the efficiency of the airport fire service on the invitation of the Singapore government, then chief fire officer of the British Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation told the media, “If they swing into action as they have done throughout the tests I am certain there will never be another disaster like that at Kallang.”15



References
1. Colony of Singapore. (1954). Report of the public inquiry into the causes and circumstances of an accident which occurred on 13th March, 1954 to the Constellation Aircraft G-ALAM. Singapore: Govt. Print., pp. ii, 1. (Call no.: RCLOS 629.13255 SIN)
2. Colony of Singapore. (1954). Report of the public inquiry into the causes and circumstances of an accident which occurred on 13th March, 1954 to the Constellation Aircraft G-ALAM. Singapore: Govt. Print., p. ii. (Call no.: RCLOS 629.13255 SIN)
3. Colony of Singapore. (1954). Report of the public inquiry into the causes and circumstances of an accident which occurred on 13th March, 1954 to the Constellation Aircraft G-ALAM. Singapore: Govt. Print., pp. 8, 12. (Call no.: RCLOS 629.13255 SIN)
4. Colony of Singapore. (1954). Report of the public inquiry into the causes and circumstances of an accident which occurred on 13th March, 1954 to the Constellation Aircraft G-ALAM. Singapore: Govt. Print., p. 15. (Call no.: RCLOS 629.13255 SIN)
5. Colony of Singapore. (1954). Report of the public inquiry into the causes and circumstances of an accident which occurred on 13th March, 1954 to the Constellation Aircraft G-ALAM. Singapore: Printed at the Govt. Print. Off., p. 17. (Call no.: RCLOS 629.13255 SIN)
6. Colony of Singapore. (1954). Report of the public inquiry into the causes and circumstances of an accident which occurred on 13th March, 1954 to the Constellation Aircraft G-ALAM. Singapore: Govt. Print., pp. 13–15. (Call no.: RCLOS 629.13255 SIN); Fire call came 4 minutes after. (1954, July 12). The Singapore Free Press, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Colony of Singapore. (1954). Report of the public inquiry into the causes and circumstances of an accident which occurred on 13th March, 1954 to the Constellation Aircraft G-ALAM. Singapore: Govt. Print., p. 15. (Call no.: RCLOS 629.13255 SIN)
8. Colony of Singapore. (1954). Report of the public inquiry into the causes and circumstances of an accident which occurred on 13th March, 1954 to the Constellation Aircraft G-ALAM. Singapore: Govt. Print., pp. 12–13, 16. (Call no.: RCLOS 629.13255 SIN); Air crash probe opens. (1954, March 15). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Colony of Singapore. (1954). Report of the public inquiry into the causes and circumstances of an accident which occurred on 13th March, 1954 to the Constellation Aircraft G-ALAM. Singapore: Govt. Print., pp. ii, 16–20. (Call no.: RCLOS 629.13255 SIN)
10. Colony of Singapore. (1954). Report of the public inquiry into the causes and circumstances of an accident which occurred on 13th March, 1954 to the Constellation Aircraft G-ALAM. Singapore: Govt. Print., pp. 43, 46. (Call no.: RCLOS 629.13255 SIN); Public inquiry it is. (1954, March 19). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; It’s over! – Inquiry ends at last. (1954, August 17). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Colony of Singapore. (1954). Report of the public inquiry into the causes and circumstances of an accident which occurred on 13th March, 1954 to the Constellation Aircraft G-ALAM. Singapore: Govt. Print., pp. 34–37. (Call no.: RCLOS 629.13255 SIN); Five crash proposals already in effect. (1954, November 18). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; The pilot, not ridge gets blame. (1954, November 16). The Singapore Free Press, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Colony of Singapore. (1954). Report of the public inquiry into the causes and circumstances of an accident which occurred on 13th March, 1954 to the Constellation Aircraft G-ALAM. Singapore: Govt. Print., pp. 10–11, 34–35. (Call no.: RCLOS 629.13255 SIN)
13. Colony of Singapore. (1954). Report of the public inquiry into the causes and circumstances of an accident which occurred on 13th March, 1954 to the Constellation Aircraft G-ALAM. Singapore: Govt. Print., pp. 35–37. (Call no.: RCLOS 629.13255 SIN)
14. Five crash proposals already in effect. (1954, November 18). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Airport ready for any emergency. (1956, April 7). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Laid to rest: The airport crash teams’ ‘ghost’. (1958, June 4). The Singapore Free Press, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.




Further resources
Air disaster story in pictures. (1954, March 14). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Briton was cremated as Chettiar. (1954, March 27). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Capt. Hoyle agrees: His approach to runway was steep, but not abnormal. (1954, July 2). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Crash bodies mix-up. (1954, March 22). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Crash body: The verdict today. (1954, March 24). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Crowd stood around and took snaps as 33 died – probe told. (1954, June 18). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Experts disagree at air crash inquiry. (1954, July 28). The Singapore Free Press, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Holes in plane ‘not right places’. (1954, July 8). The Singapore Free Press, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

I never had an order like that before, crash pilot says. (1954, June 5). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Inquest on air victims. (1954, March 25). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Judge says airport fire services ‘in a sorry state’. (1954, June 29). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Kallang crash pilot was not too tired, doctor testifies. (1954, June 19). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Pilot tells of moments before crash. (1954, June 9). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Pledge by Governor on recommendations in crash report. (1954, November 16). The Singapore Free Press, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Q.C. tells crash inquiry judge: Try a landing. (1954, June 1). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.The firemen were not trying to save people. (1954, July 9). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

We came in a bit steep, says co-pilot. (1954, June 10). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 23 March 2015 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.

Subject
Transportation
Aircraft accidents--Singapore
History>>Asia>>Southeast Asia>>Singapore
Events
Accidents
Law and government>>Safety administration>>Air transportation
Events>>Disasters

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