Sky Tower ride in Sentosa suspended after trapping 39 people in mid-air for 4 hours

Sky Tower ride in Sentosa suspended after trapping 39 people in mid-air for 4 hours
Passengers being rescued after being trapped on the Sky Tower ride for more than four hours on Saturday (Aug 12, 2017). Photo: Wong Pei Ting/TODAY
Published: 8:56 PM, August 12, 2017
Updated: 11:52 AM, August 13, 2017

SINGAPORE — A seven-minute fun ride to the highest point on Sentosa for panoramic views of the southern islands turned into a four-hour ordeal for nearly 40 people on Saturday evening (Aug 12), when they were left stranded 30m above ground by the Sky Tower ride.

The Building and Construction Authority said in a statement on Sunday that it had "issued a closure order to suspend the ride from operation". Its engineers were onsite to investigate the incident, but the BCA gave no details on what might have caused the "system malfunction" that led to 38 passengers, most of whom were tourists, and one operator being trapped in mid-air.

Saturday's incident happened at 5.30pm when the ride at the Imbiah Lookout came to a halt at the 30m mark due to a mechanical fault, said Sky Tower director Alexander Melchers, 50.

Measuring 110m from the ground, the Sky Tower is Singapore's highest observation tower and can take 55 passengers at any one time.

As of Saturday night, Mr Melchers said the cause of the fault was unknown and the last maintenance was performed in the morning before operations began. The ride was ascending when the malfunction happened.

Bottles of water and food were distributed to the trapped guests as engineers worked to lower the gondola, which has a mobile toilet and emergency supplies of water, cookies and toys to entertain children on board, said Mr Melchers.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) was activated at 7.10pm for assistance. Four SCDF officers scaled the ladders to the top of the structure before lowering themselves with ropes some 65m to enter the gondola to ensure the safety of the trapped passengers.

The ride was lowered to the ground at 9.45pm in a non-rotating safety mode and everyone disembarked safely. Nobody was injured.

Although the rescue took “a bit longer than we anticipated”, Mr Melchers said a decision was made not to evacuate the passengers because “while (they were) in the capsule, we knew that (they) were totally and absolutely safe at any time”.

“We accept that it was an inconvenience to the passengers, but it was the right decision because the system could be activated and the passengers are now on their way home,” he told reporters after the rescue.

Among those trapped was a group of 15 tourists from Vietnam, including children and elderly, travelling with operator Viet Travel. The first thing they did after being rescued was to go to the toilet.

A full refund of S$18 for adults and S$12 for children have been given to all affected passengers. Mr Melchers added that the company would compensate those who may have missed a flight due to the incident with hotel accommodation and “recovery cost” to make their way home.

Asked if there was a delay in calling SCDF, Mr Melchers said: “We have a clear operating procedure when such incidents happen. We will alert the Sentosa rangers first and we try to rectify the situation. After one hour, if the Sky Tower with the rangers are unable to rectify the problem, SCDF will be notified.”

He added that the ride has been suspended until the company knows what has happened so that it can “make sure that the attraction can continue to operate very safely”. Sky Towers will work very closely with attractions regulator, the Building and Construction Authority, to decide when the attraction can be reopened.

Saturday’s incident was not the first time that people using the ride, which was built in 2004 and manufactured by German company Kuss, have been trapped.

About seven years ago, 11 people had to be rescued after the ride came to a halt on a Friday morning. They were stuck on the ride for about 45 minutes before being rescued by the staff who reached them via a central stairway inside the tower.

That incident in July 23, 2010 came weeks after a mechanical fault on June 11 that same year prompted a suspension of the ride.