T2 evacuation order leads to delays for thousands

Smoke at Changi Airport Terminal 2 yesterday. Thousands of departing passengers ended up being delayed, some for more than three hours, following the fire. Passengers waiting outside Changi Airport Terminal 2. While some complained about the long wai
Smoke at Changi Airport Terminal 2 yesterday. Thousands of departing passengers ended up being delayed, some for more than three hours, following the fire.PHOTO: LEONG TAR BOON/FACEBOOK
Smoke at Changi Airport Terminal 2 yesterday. Thousands of departing passengers ended up being delayed, some for more than three hours, following the fire. Passengers waiting outside Changi Airport Terminal 2. While some complained about the long wai
Passengers waiting outside Changi Airport Terminal 2. While some complained about the long waits and seeming lack of information at the start, others were more understanding.PHOTO: ST READER
Smoke at Changi Airport Terminal 2 yesterday. Thousands of departing passengers ended up being delayed, some for more than three hours, following the fire. Passengers waiting outside Changi Airport Terminal 2. While some complained about the long wai
An airport staff member writing down flight updates on a whiteboard at Changi Airport's Terminal 3 to update stranded passengers.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Departing passengers diverted to T3, little chaos, but some point to lack of info early on

Mr Senthil Shanmugam was looking forward to a holiday in Tiruchirapalli, India, with friends. He arrived at Changi Airport at 7pm last night as his Tigerair flight was supposed to depart at 9.15pm.

Instead, he spent some hours waiting, wondering what he should do or if he would ever make it on his trip.

"We've been waiting for updates, but we're not sure where to get them. We can only wait for announcements to be made over the intercom," said the 33-year-old air-conditioner repairman.

From passengers departing for holidays like him to families welcoming returning relatives, thousands ended up being delayed, some for more than three hours, after Terminal 2 (T2) was evacuated due to a fire. T2 serves mainly Singapore Airlines' regional flights and SilkAir as well as Malaysia Airlines and Tigerair.

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By 9pm, however, the crowd of departing passengers who had by then been told to go to Terminal 3 (T3) started to be assigned new departure gates.

An hour later, T2 was given the all-clear, and after 11pm, arriving passengers started streaming out from there.

  • TIMELINE

  • 5.40pm: Smoke is seen coming through the air vents at Terminal 2. The fire alarm activates, starting an evacuation. Departing flights are grounded. Arriving passengers disembark onto the tarmac.

    6.38pm: Changi Airport says the situation is under control and the fire's cause has been identified. But it adds that flight operations at T2 are affected. By this time, traffic to T2 is blocked off. Jams build up as travellers make their way to other terminals.

    7.04pm: The Singapore Civil Defence Force says a "small" fire has been put out using a hosereel jet. It is later revealed that the fire happened in a room holding air-conditioning equipment.

    7.29pm: Changi Airport tells passengers departing from T2 to expect "significant delays". Those departing from T2 are told to gather at T3 to await instructions.

    8.45pm: Exhaust fans are run to clear the smoke smell in T2 as cleanup begins.

    9pm: Details on which T3 rows to head to for check-in for diverted flights are revealed. Passengers start to make their way to the departure hall.

    10pm: SCDF gives all-clear for T2. Changi Airport announces that flight operations are to resume progressively, starting with some arriving flights.

  • CHANGI AIRPORT T2 EVACUATION: EXPERIENCES ON THE GROUND

  • I was supposed to head to work straight after touching down, but I don't think it is possible any more.

    MS MARITE MASANOVA, 24. The Latvian was to board a Malaysia Airlines flight to Kuala Lumpur at 9.20pm and was worried about missing her connecting flight to London, where she works in a financial company.


    Hopefully, we will still be able to go on our long-awaited holiday.

    MISS YIP ZHI TING, 21. The undergraduate and her father Yip Peng Sun, a 55-year-old engineer, heard about the closure of T2 on their way to the airport. They were supposed to get on a 10pm Scoot flight to the Gold Coast for a four-day holiday.


    I just spoke to my friend who is still on the plane. They have not found a parking bay, I suppose. Since it is also peak hour at the airport, we need to be understanding.

    MR SUNDAR, 48, a businessman, speaking at around 8.30pm. He had gone to T2 to pick up his friend arriving from Chennai on Air India at 6.30pm, but saw a lot of smoke in the arrival hall. He was diverted to T3 to wait instead.


    Luckily, there was an ANA representative who told us where to go. I was so relieved when we were allowed to head towards the departure gates - this holiday is meant to be my graduation trip.

    MISS MICHELLE LEONG, 21, a recent graduate. She and her family were headed to Japan on a 10.15pm flight that was delayed for an hour.

While some complained about the long waits and seeming lack of information at the start, others were more understanding of the complexities involved with the temporary shutdown of an entire terminal.

A 48-year-old businessman, who wanted to be known only as Mr Sundar, went to T2 to pick up a friend arriving from Chennai, India, at 6.30pm, but was diverted to T3 to wait instead. "They have not found a parking bay, I suppose. Since it's also peak hour at the airport, we need to be understanding," he said.

Passengers reported that in the first few hours after the fire, there was very little information disseminated by staff or over the passenger announcement system. Flight information display screens were also not updated some hours after the fire was reported.

Changi Airport Group said in its statement yesterday that updated flight information was shared across all airport channels, including the display screens and on Changi's social media channels.

Mr Charlie Leong, 57, an engineer, was heading to Japan with his family as a graduation trip for his daughter. He said that they heard about the closure of T2 on the way to the airport and headed straight to T3. "When we first arrived at T3, we were initially told that there would be information appearing on the screens but we couldn't find anything," he said. He added that he was worried that they wouldn't be able to catch their ANA flight to Japan. "Luckily there was an ANA representative who told us where to go. It wasn't that bad because while everyone was waiting, we went to eat dinner," he said.

Ms Lith Lee, 42, an American citizen on a business trip in Singapore, was headed to Chennai for work. Her Scoot flight was supposed to leave T2 at 10.45pm but was among those diverted to T3.

"Although the boarding pass says that the flight will leave on time, I suspect there will still be delays," she said.

The situation began to ease around 9pm after an announcement was made at T3, informing passengers which rows to check in at. The crowd dispersed quickly from there and made their way to the departure area to board their flights.

Meanwhile, passengers arriving at T2 had to disembark from their airplanes and wait on the tarmac before being shuttled to T3 to go through immigration. Some reported waiting for up to three hours.

Multimedia videographer Aileen Teo, 26, said she was waiting in the T2 hangar after her flight landed at 6.30pm from Phuket, Thailand. "People are quite okay. We were given water, and toilet breaks were arranged," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 17, 2017, with the headline 'T2 evacuation order leads to delays for thousands'. Print Edition | Subscribe