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25 years after cable car horror, he returns to Sentosa

He was only eight when he watched his uncle and grandmother fall from a cable car to their deaths. -TNP
Benita Aw Yeong

Tue, Oct 11, 2011
The New Paper

It has been 28 years since Singapore's cable car tragedy claimed seven lives.

But not a day passes without the freak accident haunting 36-year-old Jagjit Singh.

"I think about it every day, and when I drive past the cable cars, I automatically turn to look.

"My mind tries to figure out at which point along the line they fell," says the owner of an events company, who also dabbles in acting.

It was around 6pm in the evening of January 29, 1983, and the group of seven had just spent a fun-filled day at Sentosa.

Not long after they got into a cable car heading out of Sentosa towards Mount Faber, it began swinging wildly.

"We looked out of the window, and saw the cable car ahead of us also swaying wildly. That was when I knew something was wrong," says Mr Singh, who is married with two children aged five and nine.

The next thing he knew, the cabin spun twice completely around the main cable, flinging the door of the car open.

In an instant, his uncle, Mr Mahinder Singh, 44, and grandmother, Madam Pritam Kaur, 60, fell through the door and down into churning waters below.

Madam Pritam had been holding on to Mr Singh's 22-month-old cousin Tasvinder.

After falling 56m into the Singapore harbour, only Tasvinder, out of the three, survived.

About 10 hours later, Mr Singh and the remaining three members of his family were rescued by officers from the Singapore Air Force Rescue Squadron, who arrived in helicopters.

Mr Singh's recollections are hazy at this point. He had fainted in the cabin during the ordeal.

At the time, the entire nation watched the live television broadcast of the accident's aftermath and subsequent rescue with bated breath.

A mixture of relief and grief emerged when reports confirmed that 13 people were rescued from four suspended cabins, while seven lost their lives.

Investigations later revealed that the accident occurred because an oil-drilling ship that was being towed out to sea had broken loose from its tugboats.

Its drilling rig, which was 68m tall, hit the main cable car line, causing two cabins to dislodge and plunge into the sea, while leaving four others suspended until rescue officers arrived.

A Presidential Commission of Inquiry absolved the cable car system of blame and it was judged to be sound and operable.

Subsequently, ships taller than 52m were barred from entering Keppel Harbour.

Laser height sensors and stringent entry procedures for ships between 48m and 52m in height were also implemented after the accident.

But instead of feeling grateful to be alive, Mr Singh only felt guilt.

The excursion to Sentosa was organised in a bid to lift the then Primary 3 pupil's spirits. And if not for him, his uncle and grandmother could be alive today, he explains.

"I had not been fitting in well at school, and one of the teachers suggested that a change of scenery might be good for me.

"So my family decided to organise an outing to Sentosa, which at that time was an 'in' place to go," says Mr Singh.

"I wish I was better prepared...I wish I could have done more," he adds, with tears in his eyes. The loss brought immense grief because he and his uncle were especially close.

"I was sent to live with my uncle and aunt, who were childless, when I was just 40 days old.

"I had lived with them in their home growing up and they were like my real parents. They doted on me very much and I called them 'papa' and 'mama'," he says.

After the incident, he moved back to live with his biological parents, although he was quick to add that his aunt never blamed him for her husband's death.

Mr Singh says the incident changed him in more ways than one.

The self-confessed softie admits that some things which "other guys may brush off" hits him close to the heart.

"When I'm on the road and I see an accident happen, I feel pity for that person. I've also become a little less selfish and self-centred," he says.

After the incident, he also developed a fear for water and avoided visiting Sentosa for many years.

"Every time the car I was in drove over a bridge under which there was water I would start screaming.

"I used to be afraid of water and I used to hate the sea," he says.

It was finally his love of acting that drew him back to Sentosa.

He returned to the island when given the opportunity to audition for a part in Songs of the Sea, a musical attraction.

"When I first stepped into Sentosa after 25 years, I experienced many flashbacks about the incident and my family."

In 2008, he landed the part of an unnamed friend to Li, the main character in the 25-minute musical.

"It (returning to Sentosa) made me uncomfortable, but I managed to put that aside and focus on my acting," he says.

Indeed, acting helped in healing the emotional wounds he suffered in the tragedy.

"When I act, everything else in my mind fades away and it helps me overcome my fears.

"When you love something that much, it becomes your healing mechanism," he says.

In addition to acting part-time and performing at Siloso Beach once or twice a week, Mr Singh runs his events company and teaches event deejaying to secondary school students on a project basis.

While he believes the memory of the incident will never fade, it now serves a deeper purpose - to inspire and encourage his students.

"My story reminds them that life is short, and if I, having gone through what I did, can make something out of my own life, I don't see why they can't," he says.

"My story reminds them that life is short, and if I, having gone through what I did, can make something out of my own life, I don't see why they can't."

benitaay@sph.com.sg

This article was first published in The New Paper.

 
 
 
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