source: http://www.mindef.gov.sg/imindef/about_us/history/maturing_saf/v03n01_history.html

. By: Ms Elaine Lim
.Volume 3 Issue 1

29 January 1983 – Tragedy struck when the towering structure of a Panamanian-registered oil rig struck the cable of the Sentosa Cable Car and caused two cable cars to plunge into the sea. The disaster happened shortly after 6 pm when the oil rig, which was being towed away from Keppel Wharf, became entangled in the cable and caused it to snap. It also left thirteen people trapped in four other cable cars between Mount Faber and Sentosa.

This accident was the first involving death or injury since the cable car system opened in 1974. A total of seven people died in the cable car tragedy.

This operation involved all the three Services of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). The Diving Unit of the Singapore Navy was assigned to conduct the underwater search for the passengers in the two cable cars which had plunged into the sea. It took the unit three hours before they recovered the four bodies from the cable cars. On land, the Army had established an operations HQ and medical facilities at the wharf-side.

The main rescue effort was undertaken the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF). The 120 Squadron of the RSAF were tasked to rescue the people who were still trapped in the four cable cars as the cars could not be moved along the remaining cables. Though an extremely risky measure, it was considered the fastest and safest way as the cable cars might plunge into the sea at any moment.

Helicopters from the squadron, fitted with floodlights approached one of the cable cars. Despite the strong winds and danger, an airman was winched down. He reached for the door of the cable-car, unlocked it and went inside. He soon came out with the first of the rescued who was strapped to his body by a harness. The winch quickly pulled both of them to safety. This was repeated until all thirteen passengers were brought to safety. The rescue took three and a half hours of risky hovering in darkness and high wind conditions. The competence and daring of the air crew was instrumental in the success of the rescue.

The first person rescued was Mr Allan Gregory Brown, a twenty-year old New Zealander who exclaimed, “Thank you, Singapore!” Another Canadian woman hugged and kissed the winch operator in the helicopter. The recipient of this gratitude, Staff Sergeant Ho Tzu Keng said, “It is worth more than a thousand words.”

This daring operation was directed by then COL Lee Hsien Loong, Chief of Staff (General Staff). COL Lee praised the daring young men of the RSAF 120 Squadron for their performance as the operation was difficult and dangerous. He said, “We are relieved … that we managed to rescue all the people who were stranded on the cable cars. We are proud of the pilots and crewmen who were involved and whose performance made possible the success of the plan.”

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