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Oct 14, 2016

Ways Done in the Past - Cable Cars

PM Lee Hsien Loong honours Australian rescuer in 1983 Sentosa cable car disaster  here .  More about this story below.

Many of my younger friends wanted to know about the history of the Sentosa cable cars, when was it officially opened and why the need to build cable cars from Mount Faber to Sentosa?

With courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore, the selected archived photos are curated to share on this blog.

The official opening of the Sentosa Cable Car System at the Mount Faber station on 15 February, 1974.

After the official opening of the Sentosa cable car system, Guest-of-Honour Dr Goh Keng Swee and Mrs Goh boarded a cable car,  the invited guests also boarded their respective individual cabins to ride to Sentosa.

The Singapore Gondola provides an aerial link from Mount Faber on the main island of Singapore to the resort island of Sentosa across the Keppel Harbour.  It was the first aerial ropeway system in the world to span a harbour.

The Singapore government came up with the idea of a cable car to Sentosa from Mount Faber in 1968 as part of its masterplan for tourism projects in the country.

The cable cars attracted mammoth crowd of Singaporeans, visitors and tourists when the Sentosa Cable Car system was opened to the the public.

Most of the trippers flocked to Mount Faber Station to take the 17-minute round trip to Sentosa.  A ride by cable car across the harbour provided an enjoyable paramount view by air.  It was a memorable experience and memories for everyone to remember.
Outside the Mount Faber cable car station

In 1978, the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) set up a new covered embarkation and disembarkation ferry terminal point for visitor to the World Trade Centre Building.  The former PSA ferry points at Jardine Steps were being used only by those who wish to travel to the island by private "bumboat".

Holiday crowds at Sentosa ferry terminal

Holiday crowds at Sentosa ferry terminal in 1975.

Sentosa's swimming lagoon was an increasingly popular holiday spot.  The hundreds of gaily-dressed picnickers crowding Jardine Steps to catch the ferry every Sunday morning to the man-made lagoon on Sentosa.

Few people know that long before Sentosa was developed for tourism in Singapore, there was a small 5 ha. "rock" known as Sarong Island .

Cable Cars Disaster in Singapore

An accident on the Singapore Cable Car System occurred at about 6 p.m. on 29 January 1983, when the derrick of the Eniwetok, a Panamanian-registered oil rig, passed under the aerial ropeway and struck the cable that stretched over the waterway between the Jardine Steps Station and the Sentosa
Station.  As a result, two cabins plunged 55 metres into the sea, killing seven people.

The oil rig was being towed away from Keppel Wharf when it became entangled in the cable and caused it to snap.  It also left 13 people trapped in four other cabins between Mount Faber and Sentosa.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, then a colonel in the Singapore Armed Forces, directed the cable car rescue operation.  "He showed a good grasp of military operations and was able to harness the abilities of the navy, army and air force to direct a successful rescue" according to Mr Boey Tak Hap, former CEO of Singapore Power and Chief of Army. (Source: The Straits Times, 19 October 2003).

Sentosa Cable Car Tragedy 

Singapore experienced one of its worst disasters during the evening of 29 January 1983, when the cableway of the Sentosa cable-car system was struck by the derrick of the drillship Eniwetok as it was undocking from a wharf at the nearby Keppel Harbour.  The impact of the collision dislodged two of the 15 cable cars, which were travelling on the cableway at the time, and caused them to plunge into the sea below. One of the cars was empty, but the five passengers in the other car were killed.   Of the remaining 13 cars, one oscillated so violently that three of its seven passengers were thrown out. Two perished, but the third, a toddler, survived the ordeal.   Altogether, there were 13 people trapped in four cars – two cars over land and two over water – between Mount Faber and Sentosa.

An all-night rescue operation, coordinated by then Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) colonel Lee Hsien Loong, was launched to rescue the trapped passengers. The mid-air rescue commenced at 12.45 am on 30 January, and involved the use of two military helicopters. From the helicopters, winchmen were lowered to the cable cars to bring the passengers up. One helicopter rescued the six passengers from the two cars over land, while the other evacuated the seven passengers from the two cars over water. The rescue operation was completed at about 3.30 am. All the rescued passengers were immediately taken to the Singapore General Hospital. Before the rescue operation was mounted, the rescue planning team had considered the option of using a fire brigade snorkel ladder and a floating crane to reach the stranded passengers. Another option was to send SAF commandos, in teams of two, to crawl along the cables to the cars, attach pulleys to the cables and then lower the passengers to safety with the help of other commandos below. These two options were dropped in favour of the helicopter mid-air rescue, although the commandos were the backup plan.

A three-member commission of inquiry, headed by then High Court judge Justice Lai Kew Chai, was appointed on 5 February 1983 to investigate the cause of the disaster.  In its report, released on 30 December 1983, the commission noted that the accident was caused by a combination of factors, in particular, the failure of the pilot and the ship’s master to establish the actual height of the ship with the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA), as well as the failure of the towing mechanism that caused the ship to drift to the cableway.

To prevent similar occurrences, the commission recommended various measures such as legislating and implementing new height restrictions for vessels entering Keppel Harbour. This was enforced by the PSA, which set the restriction at 52 m.   The PSA also designated the waterway in Keppel Harbour a Height Restriction Area and installed a laser system to determine the height of ships entering the area.   The Sentosa cable-car service resumed operations in August 1983 after almost seven months of extensive repairs and thorough tests

(Source):  HistorySG

More Ride Sentosa Cable Car

The Sentosa cable car tragedy has not put off Singaporeans from using the system, and in the first week after it reopened, more people rode it than in an average week before the disaster.

A total of 10,600 visitors went to the resort island on the cable system in the week after its 7-month closure following the January 29, 1983 accident. (Source: Singapore Monitor, 23 August 1983).

Sentosa Cable Cars Souvenir Mugs

The photos of the souvenir mug of Sentosa, Jardine Steps and Mount Faber cable cars stations on 3 different sides.  Photo credit by Irene Wee with acknowledgement and thanks.



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