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From The Straits Times archives: The 1983 Sentosa cable car tragedy

Published on Aug 11, 2014 5:39 PM

On Aug 10, 2014, an empty cable car fell on a construction site along Imbiah Walk near the Underwater World in Sentosa, while another nearby cabin, with a technical supervisor inside, was halted in mid-air. The incident bore some semblance to the tragedy that happened off the waters of Sentosa three decades ago.

On Jan 29, 1983, seven passengers died when two Sentosa cable cars plunged into the sea after the cableway was struck by the derrick of oil drilling vessel Eniwetok. Here is a look-back at what happened that night, and the dramatic rescue operation that took place.

This article was first published in The Straits Times on Jan 30, 1983

Seven people died last night when two Sentosa cable cars plunged into the sea after the derrick of an oil drilling vessel struck the ropeway.

Rescue services were engaged in an operation to save another six people stranded in four other cable cars which stopped when the accident happened.

And early today, two passengers were rescued from one of the stranded cars in a daring helicopter operation.

The helicopter lowered a winchman onto the car's roof; at first he was blown off, but in the second attempt, he got onto the roof of the car and freed the two passengers.

Emergency Centre

Apart from the helicopters, floating cranes were being moved into position in case they were needed to reach the stranded cars, two on each side of the water.

An emergency operations centre was set up in PSA Tower under the control of Mr Philip Yeo, Second Permanent Secretary (Defence).

The disaster happened shortly after 6pm. A PSA tug began towing the drillship away from Keppel Wharf. Shortly afterwards, eye witnesses said the vessel's gantry tower snagged one of the two cables, pulling it out of place.

A PSA boatman, Mr Mohamed Noor Nani, said he looked up from his boat after hearing a loud noice.

He grabbed a loudhailer and shouted "Go stun! Go stun!" ("go astern") but the drillship kept moving. Its tower snagged the cable, and the two cars were dislodged and flung into the water.

Some witnesses said three or more of the people in them were thrown out as the cars hurtled 55m into the water.

Several bodies fell close to Jardine Steps, and a two-year-old boy was rescued alive from the water. He was in critical condition with head injuries last night.

A team of army frogmen rushed to the scene and combed the water for bodies. Police sealed off the area around the World Trade Centre as rescue vehicles and ambulances were moved in.

Police Task Force members were called out to control big crowds which gathered at the terminal as news of the tragedy spread.

The seven known dead included two of seven members of a Sikh family which had gone to Sentosa for the day. A third, a two-year-old boy, was critically ill in hospital. The other four had not been accounted for.

As the operation to reach the stranded cars continued, the major fear was that the still-tangled drillship tower could break the ropeway.

A Singapore Fire Service spokesman said: “Almost anything we try will be risky."


The problem was worsened by a combination of the strong current and the rising tide - high tide was at 11pm.

In a bid to prevent the drillship from moving, four tugs put lines abroad and worked to and fro to keep the drillship Eniwetok steady in the water.

The Eniwetok had been converted from a bulk carrier in the Keppel Shipyard and was commissioned only six weeks ago.

With the advent of the high tide at 11pm, the rescuers feared that as the drillship rose with the tide, the lension might snap the cable.

As well as the two Sikhs, the dead were Mr Fred Kinimoto, an American businessman living in Singapore, and a 60-year-old American visitor, a Chinese woman aged about 30, an Australian man aged about 35, and a Caucasian woman.

The accident is the first involving death or injury since the cable car system opened in February 1974. But in 1977, there were several causes of people being stranded when cable cars broke down.

The system, which cost $12 million, is run by Singapore Cable Cars and jointly owned by the Sentosa Development Corporation and the PSA.