16 January 2007

How Safe Are Singapore's Tourist Attractions?

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.


eastcoastlife said...

I took this balloon ride last year. It is expensive and lasts only 10 minutes, but the kids like it. The joy on the kids' faces cannot measure in dollars and cents. It is a good experience. In Australia, a balloon ride costs A$88 per person! I think now it is more expensive.

Actually the balloon is not so near any building lah. Take a look at the site.

In Singapore, most attractions are quite safe. The operators cannot afford to have any accidents.

To see the same views for free, go to the The Pod, on the 16th floor of the National Library.

You can also spend the money to have a good meal for 2 on the 70th floor of Raffles the Plaza and enjoy the great city views.

me said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
me said...

Oh GD: did you subscribe me to your online readership email notification or something? or you manually emailed me?

Thank you for the effort if you do it manually! but i think no need la.. i think there's function for me to click to read archive or something like that is it? though i dont know much about it...?

i only have one sentence to this etnry ley..


so no no no no no to all high high things... =P

me said...

Ok paisey.. i found your answer to my qn in your previous entry comments hehehe!

thank you GD! but i think u should be able to add more people inside one la... and i got the email! SO COOL CAN!

Anonymous said...

When people want thrills they do not mind taking some calculated risks, but the public must also beware of the operator's safety commitment (the small print in writing: not responsible for this and that). Take for example, recently an east asian island country started a bullet train service, whereby drawing huge crowds wanting to try our its inaugural trips, but later found out that the relevant authority has the audacity of not guaranteeing the safety of the travelling passengers, causing a big uproar and protest from the public. If a government agency can be non-committal to safety, what more if it is a private one, but I am confident of our government's ability to overlook public safety effectively.

Chris Sim said...

Victor, definitely not man enough to live life on the edge.... If your time is up, it's up.

The hotair balloon looked pretty far from the sharp pole. If the photo is 3-dimensional, it would have been more obvious.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the article. I think quite safe lah. Judging from the size of the people in the photo, they are quite far away. I think I will try it some time. I trust Spore authority to be able to make it safe .. at least safer than roller blading.

Victor said...

Jayne - Thanks for your recommendations. I think the top floor (16th?) of the NLB is not opened to the public. And you have kids (plural)? I thought you only have one child? Oh you mean your students ah? And how can I fail to notice a woman with long hair striking such a seductive pose in the photo? :p

Elaine - the cable car accident happened in Jan 1983, the year of your birth. Oh no, maybe you are a reincarnation hor? No wonder you are afraid of heights, LOL. Nope, I checked - only one email is allowed for notification.

Zen - Do you mean that the government will take care of public safety instead of overlook public safety, which means the exact opposite?

Chris and Chun See - Of course I am aware that the balloon was actually a few hundred metres away from the lightning rod lah. I am making use of optical illusion to try to deceive people mah, hehe. After all, there are still people who believed that my 'SEX 69 4U' number plate was for real, haha.

Talking about roller blading, the physiotherapist will be fitting an ankle brace for me tomorrow. After that, I am going to try my hand, I mean feet at roller blading again.

I think roller blading is still safer. If something happens at roller blading, you will probably still live. But if something were to happen to the balloon, you may never come back.

Don't say I didn't warn you hor. Haha.

Anonymous said...

I believe it is safe. I think the probabilities of rope-snapping and sabotage is low. But of course accidents and the unexpected do happen.

I'm also quite fearful of heights but if I don't look down it is ok. Flying also ok.

eastcoastlife said...

喂,Do I still look like Xu Chun Mei? Basket!!!!

eastcoastlife said...

Roller blading is safer? at your age? If you fall, your bones are going to collapse in one heap.

BEDminton is better. owwww.....

Victor said...

Frannxis - If you don't look down, then no point taking the balloon right? Why pay money to suffer?

Eastcoastlife - Wah, you very observant hor? I hid the name in my blogroll only yesterday and you found out about it today. Well done. You are so lucky - at first I wanted to put Pan Jing Lian one but Chris (Sim not Tan) cautioned me against doing so, no kidding. If I can take a label like Sun Lao Hou (= Sun Wu Kong, that 'old monkey'), I am sure you can tahan a label like Xu Chun Mei what. After all, Xu Chun Mei is quite pretty, you know... when young lah, haha. BTW, I fell before while skating - my bones didn't end up in a heap, only torn one or two ligaments nia. My bones are as hard as Chris' (Sim not Tan) skull is thick.

Chris Sim said...

Woa... old monkey. Chat up with Xu Chun Mei,chat up lah. 又管我屁事啊??? Two's a company; three's a crowd. U dunno ahh? Hng!

Chris Sim said...

Aiyah ECL... BEDminton or ROLLERBED.... let's call a Spade a Spade. They are all SEXERCISE mah... and our favourite sports.

Victor said...

Hey Chris, that was a credit that I gave you, in case you didn't realise it. You are always the one who restrains me for doing something silly. Otherwise, you may see newspaper's headlines tomorrow screaming, '50-year-old Man Clubbed To Death With Baseball Bat In Adelphi'. LOL.

'My bones are as hard as your skull is thick' is also a complement to you what. Anyway, wasn't you the one who claimed that you have a thick skull?

eastcoastlife said...

I cannot tahan the Xu Chun Mei and you are so going to be dead lor!!!!

If you had used Pan Jing Lian, your family will never find your body. You incur a woman's wrath nah........

Anonymous said...

Frankly speaking I do not know the details of govt authority enforcing safety standards both in the public or private controlled sectors. I may be wrong, but I believe not all accidents are reported, unless covered by the press or inquiries from coroner court (or news released by authorised sources).

Unknown said...

I took my son flying the balloon about twice so far, once in the evening and another recently at night after dinner. He enjoyed the experience tremendously, even though the winds were pretty strong on Sunday and the balloon was like swaying quite a bit. So far (touch wood) it has been safe.

Victor said...

Walter - I agree with you that the balloon and our other tourist attractions are generally quite safe. Even after that 1983 cable car accident, it is still considered quite safe to take a cable car today. Just like I still think that our national airline is one of the safest in the world despite that crash in Taipei some years back and the Silkair one in Palembang some time before that.

What is important is that we have learnt from our past mistakes and have put measures in place to prevent similar occurrences in the future.