A usual morning walk with her dog turned into a nightmare for 85-year-old Khoo Bee Hua, after her left hand was severed in the lift on the way home to her flat.
Use of the lift at Block 322, Tah Ching Road, near Jurong Lake, has been suspended by the Building and Construction Authority while investigations are being carried out. It is still unclear how the accident happened, but the widow's hand was found outside the lift by Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) rescuers, who also had to prise open the doors to get her out.
The woman, who lives alone on the 16th floor, was taken to the National University Hospital, along with her severed hand, which was packaged in ice. Surgery to reattach it had not begun in the late afternoon, given concerns over the risks involved, owing to her age and her high blood pressure.
'Old sensors may be culprit'
Outdated sensors and a mechanical fault could account for why the lift at a Housing Board block in Jurong severed an 85-year-old woman's hand, a lift expert told The Straits Times.
Mr Quah Eng Hing, 65, director and general manager of lift company Chevalier Singapore Holdings, said the lift's photo ray sensors might have missed detecting Madam Khoo Bee Hua's hand because they are positioned only near the bottom of the door.
Such sensors - usually placed on each door about half a metre from the lift floor - would not have detected a hand placed above them, unlike some newer lifts where the entire door edge is lined with sensors spaced 25mm apart, he said.
He noted the lift in question is 19 years old, and built before such multi-beam technology existed.
As to how the lift doors could close even with safety edges, a mechanism which makes the doors open when they hit something hard, Mr Quah said it is possible that the edges were faulty.
However, Jurong Town Council general manager Ho Thian Poh said the safety devices of that lift and other lifts in the same precinct were found to be working after the incident. He added that the lift, which has not been upgraded or replaced, is "not due" for replacement as its life cycle is 28 years.
Yeo Sam Jo
The Straits Times spoke to her son, who seemed to be in his 50s and gave his name as Mr Lee, at the hospital. He did not say much except that he believes the incident was caused by problems with the lift.
The Housing Board said lift doors are designed with a safety mechanism that will make them reopen upon hitting a hard object.They are also fitted with photo ray sensors that will stop the doors if they detect "sizeable" objects in the way.
"However, the sensor may not be able to detect or respond to thin strips, strings or similar objects," an HDB spokesman added.
Mr Ho Thian Poh, general manager of Jurong Town Council, which is in charge of maintaining the lift, said it had been serviced just last week as part of a monthly maintenance schedule, and was certified to be in good working condition.
An inspection after the incident also showed that safety devices that prevent the lift doors from closing were working. He also explained that the lift, which is serviced once a month, is 19 years old and has never been upgraded or replaced. He added that the lift was "not due" for replacement as its life cycle is 28 years. He said: "We have also proceeded to check the remaining lifts in our town to ensure that the safety devices are all working."
An SCDF spokesman confirmed that it was alerted to the incident at 7.27am.
Eyewitnesses saw Madam Khoo's dog hanging by its leash outside the lift. The leash was cut to save the dog, which survived.
A 40-year-old resident, who has been living in the block for 12 years, saw the elderly woman lying on the lift floor. "I could also hear her crying very heavily," said the resident.
Ms Claire Seow, 36, who lives on the same floor as Madam Khoo, said she had noticed worrying issues with the lifts in the past six months.
"Sometimes the lift would stall in between floors, or the doors would jerk for a few seconds before closing," said the manager, adding that she has reported these problems to the town council several times. "Once, the lift even stopped nearly 10cms below the ground and the doors opened. It's very unsafe."
Sigma Elevator Singapore, the lift's manufacturer and operator, said it is assisting with investigations. It said the lift next to the one where the accident happened, has been checked by an independent engineer and certified safe.