Thursday, December 25, 2008

Singapore Flyer: Stuck on world's tallest wheel

Stuck on world's tallest wheel

Electric New Paper - 2 hours ago
By Belle Charlene Kwan ONE mother took leave specially to take her children on the Singapore flyer. The family were looking forward to the joy ride since they bought the tickets in June.

They ended up trapped in one of the capsules for hours when the Singapore Flyer suddenly stopped moving at 4.50pm yesterday.

The couple and their two children were among 173 people, including foreign tourists, trapped inside the capsules for up to six hours before the Flyer started moving again at about 11pm.

During that time, many were upset over the confinement, with children crying and adults trying to find out what was going on through the intercom in each capsule.

One mother had to resort to using her son's nappy to relieve herself.

At 7.30pm, the Flyer's rescue team climbed up to the lowest capsule containing passengers. With the use of ropes and harnesses, a Malaysian group of five young adults were lowered down from the capsule, which was about three storeys above the ground.

Singapore Flyer general manager Steven Yeo said they decided to resort to this mode of rescue because at that time they had no idea how long the repairs would take.

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IN TEARS: A young Malay woman was so traumatised that she was in tears as she came down from the Flyer.

He told a press conference at 9.15pm that the Flyer had stalled after one of the observation wheel's north driver units stopped turning, which caused several electrical supplies to be cut.

When asked whether lowering the passengers was its contingency plan, he said: 'When this happened, the Singapore Flyer's operations team and the SCDF had to come together to think of the quickest and safest way to rescue passengers.'

Mr Yeo also said that it would take about 30 minutes to rescue one person and that it would take till morning to rescue everyone.

It didn't seem to be the most efficient way of rescuing people.

As one passenger, Mrs Maxine Kwek, said: 'It was a very stupid idea. They told us over the intercom that they would lower us down in baskets.

'What kind of emergency plan is this for a Singapore tourist attraction? There was no way neither my children nor I was getting into a basket.'

As it turned out, only 10 passengers were rescued in the manner before the Flyer started moving again.

Its operations and technical team had managed to restart the motor of the driver unit and resumed the rotation of the Flyer at 11.15pm.


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GAWKERS: The stalled Flyer drew a crowd of curious onlookers, with their cameras.

Before that, some of those who were rescued looked terrified as they were lowered to the ground.

One of them was a young Malay woman. As she was lowered to the ground, her screams of 'Faster! Faster!' could be heard, and she was trembling and in tears after safely reaching the ground.

As for the 163 passengers stuck inside until the Flyer started again, some managed to get food and drinks delivered to them. But others waited in vain for hours after they were promised the refreshments at about 8pm.

Mrs Kwek, 28, an executive at a Japanese Bank, spoke to The New Paper over her handphone while she and her family were trapped in a capsule with an Indian family and an American couple.

She had bought tickets for her family in June for the inaugural trip on the Flyer for herself, her husband and their two children.

'My children were on school holidays, so I thought it would be an exciting treat for them,' said Mrs Kwek, who had taken a day's leave for the excursion.

She said their capsule was suspended at the 11 o'clock position of the wheel.

When The New Paper spoke to her at 7pm, she said the mood in the capsule was tense.

'Thankfully, my children are still calm. However, the Indian family's children are crying because they got scared. And the American couple are fuming mad.'

Her efforts in contacting ground staff through the intercom system located in every capsule proved futile.

'Nobody could tell us what was going on, or how long we would be stuck for. There was no effort made in reassuring us of our safety either.'

Mrs Kwek said that a team climbed to their capsule at 9pm, but said nothing to reassure them that rescue was imminent.

'All they did was a head count of the people inside and then left. We felt like zoo animals,' she said.

The Indians and Americans declined to speak to The New Paper.

Two Kiwi tourists were also part of the 173 passengers trapped. Their friend, who declined to be named, waited at ground level and was unimpressed.

'The Singapore Flyer has only been operational since March, and already it has failed several times. It's very disappointing,' said the New Zealander who works in Singapore.

Mr Yeo said this was the fourth time that an incident has occurred with the Singapore Flyer.

'All other problems that have occurred during the previous three incidents have been rectified,' he added.

The Singapore Flyer engaged the help of professional rescue team Dive Marine to help bring passengers down with harnesses, as well as to deliver refreshments to some of the capsules.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) was called in only at about 7.50pm, and six operational vehicles, together with one support vehicle, along with 50 personnel were activated.

Several SCDF personnel were seen scaling the wires of the Singapore Flyer to deliver refreshments to passengers.

A large crowd gathered around the Singapore Flyer building, and onlookers were busy snapping away with their cameras as some passengers were lowered to the ground.

Among them was a disappointed American family of tourists, who had wanted to take a 9pm ride.

'We were very excited about going up to the Flyer, and will come back tomorrow to make the journey up,' said Mr Michael Bustamante, 24.

When asked if he was afraid such an incident might occur again, he said: 'Not at all, I would still want to take the ride up. Accidents do happen, and it doesn't mean it would happen again anytime soon.'

Mr Max Kwek, Mrs Kwek's husband, feels differently.

'I would never recommend anyone to step foot on the Singapore Flyer.'

A full refund was given to all passengers, but to Mr Kwek, this was not enough.

'I am outraged at what has happened. The mechanical glitches can be understood. However, it is the way in which they handle passengers in the capsules that I am unhappy with.'

He said: 'They were rude to us, and offered no answers to passengers who were scared and panicking. They also promised us food and water, but three hours on, we received nothing.'

'Whatever happened to Plan B?' Mr Kwek asked.

Singapore Flyer rescue team targeted critical capsules first Channel News Asia
Flyer to stay shut AsiaOne