Any Singaporean above 30 years' old is likely to remember the cable car accident
that happened in 1983. In that accident, the derrick of the drilling ship Eniwetok strucked one of the cables of the cable car system while the ship was being towed. Two cable cars were dislodged and fell into the sea. Seven people were killed but 13 other people, who were literally hanging on for their dear lives, were eventually rescued by helicopter
from another 4 cable cars. A two-year-old boy was rescued alive from the water but was seriously injured. That was the first and only fatal accident involving our cable car system and it was horrific news
I vaguely remember fatal accidents that happened before at other now defunct attractions - at the roller coaster ride in the Wonderland Amusement Park in Kallang and also at the Wet And Wild Theme Park in Sentosa. Well to be fair, some fatalities are caused by the riders themselves because they failed to observe safety rules.
In May last year, I also blogged about the incident
in which one of the cords of the G-Max reverse bungy ride at Clarke Quay snapped. Luckily in that incident, no one was injured.
On 13 Jan 2007, I was at Little India. What I saw there prompted me to write this post. From where I was standing, the DHL balloon looked like it was drifting dangerously close to a very sharp object. When the balloon virtually touched the sharp object, I very nearly covered my ears instinctively in anticipation of hearing a loud explosion. I didn't only because I was holding my camera in my hands to take the following series of photos:
Out of curiosity, I checked out the safety instruction at the balloon site the next day and this is what it says:
Admission Age - Flight is suitable for all ages. Please consult your physician if in doubt.
Flight Conditions - Safety is paramount and flight will be suspended if weather is not conducive for smooth flight. We will 'wait-out' for rain, lightning, wind gust condition. Gondola's capacity will be reduced in windy condition.
The balloon was built by the French 'Aerophile Group' which has maintained an 'impeccable safety record' of no incidents since 1994 when the group was established. The local company that operates the balloon is Aerophile Balloon (S) Pte Ltd, a 'duck and hippo' company. Incidentally, the tagline for the DHL balloon is 'U Can Fly' while that for the Duck Tour is 'Ride The Wacky Duck' and the Hippo Bus' ham sap
(cheeky) tagline is 'It Is Hip To Go Topless'.
Despite what the safety records show, history has proven that accidents can and do happen. I have cited several incidents above. Consider the following possible risks:
1. Lightning strike - Although the balloon does not fly in foul weather, lightning can strike in fine weather too. Though uncommon, there have been people killed by lightning strikes that happened in not too foul weather. Remember the case of the Sinchi football player who was fatally struck by lightning during a light rain in Mar 2004? Therefore, it is hard to predict when and where a lightning will strike. After all, Aerophile itself admitted on a banner displayed at the gate that it was 'far from God'. When a lightning strikes, such a huge balloon in flight is a sitting duck.
2. Restraining rope snaps - Although regularly inspected and maintained, the rope can still snap unexpectedly. This was exactly what happened in the G-Max incident
. If that happens, then you really 'can fly' (and never come back).
3. Sabotage/terrorism - Just like nobody expected a man-made incident like the NKF scandal
to happen in Singapore, sabotage and terrorism is very real. It nearly happened in Singapore 5 years ago if not for the vigilance of our security agencies. I shudder to think that even a blind terrorist might be able to fire a rocket from his shoulder and not miss such a huge target in the sky.
As I am very kiasi
(afraid to die), I haven't taken a ride on this balloon before. Not only because I fear for my life but I also fear for my pocket. You see, at $23.00 for an adult and $13.00 for a child, a 7-10 minute ride for my family of 4 would cost a whopping $82, enough to buy a promotional return air ticket to Bangkok on a budget airline. For those who still want to take in the aerial view of the city, I recommend a ride up one of the bubble lifts of the nearby Pan Pacific Hotel instead. This I have done before and I can assure you that the ride is just as breathtaking, free-of-charge but best of all, a lot safer.
However, don't despair as not all hopes are lost. Despite voicing my many concerns for the safety of the balloon, I can say safely (pun intended) that the likelihood of the balloon being pricked by a lightning conductor is well, quite remote.