Doctor's four-storey plunge: I kept crying for help

Madam Nerissa Tan taking care of her daugher, Dr Hannah Tan, at the hospital.

SINGAPORE - A Filipino doctor, in Singapore for a conference, had the shock of her life after stepping into a lift shaft at a Jalan Besar hostel last Thursday.

She fell four storeys and landed on top of the lift, which was used for goods and luggage, that had stopped at the first floor. She was in pain and alone in the darkness of the shaft for four hours.

She suffered serious injuries, but is in stable condition at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH).

Dr Hannah Tan, 29, was here with her family to attend a conference organised by the Healthcare Christian Fellowship.

Recalling the accident from her hospital bed at TTSH, Dr Tan told The New Paper on Sunday night that it happened at about 2am in the B88 Hostel along Jalan Besar.

She was staying at the hostel with six family members.

Her room was on the fifth storey. She was on the way to the toilet when she stepped into the lift shaft, which is next to the toilet.

CCTV footage shows Dr Tan walking to the lift's door, opening it and walking into it.

Dr Tan said: "I don't remember how I fell, but I know that I have never felt so scared in my life.

"I felt like I had fallen into a black hole."

She found herself lying on the roof of the lift, which was parked on the first storey.

"It was dark and scary. I kept crying for help."

She was found only four hours later, when her mother, Madam Nerissa Tan, 59, heard her cries for help.

Faint cries

Madam Tan said: "I was also on my way to the bathroom, when I heard someone calling, 'help me, help me'.

The cries were faint and weak, but I could recognise that it was my daughter."

Madam Tan walked down the stairs to the lower storeys and followed the voice to the second storey.

"The lift door was shut and I didn't know how to get it open, so I called the rest of the family to help."

Mr Ivon Talaban, who is Dr Tan's sister's boyfriend, entered the shaft from the lift door on the third storey.

The 25-year-old, a performer at Universal Studios Singapore, climbed to the second storey and kicked the lift door open from the inside.

He said: "I was also scared that the lift might move and injure me. But I just wanted to get Hannah out of there."

After about five hard kicks, the door gave way and Mr Talaban and another family member carried Dr Tan to the lift landing.

Her family called the Singapore Civil Defence Force, and an ambulance soon arrived.

A spokesman confirmed that they received a call at 6.33am. When officers arrived, Ms Tan was still conscious. She was sent to TTSH and placed in a high-dependency ward.

Her family said she suffered four fractured ribs and broken bones in her left foot.

As an abnormal collection of air had gathered between her lungs and chest wall, tubes had to be inserted into both lungs to drain the air out so she could breathe normally.

She also suffered lacerations to her feet, head and mouth, and had to be stitched up. Her left foot was placed in a cast.

She was transferred to a normal ward last Friday.

The Agape Baptist Church has been providing accommodation for Madam Tan and giving emotional support.

Dr Tan told TNP: "I want to know what went wrong. How can the hostel leave the lift door unlocked, especially when the lift was parked at another storey?

"It's very dangerous, and I could have died."

Added Madam Tan: "There was also no security guard or hostel staff to help during the incident."

When contacted, the hostel's operations manager, Ms Chew Pei Ying, told TNP that Dr Tan stepped into a goods hoist that was meant for the moving of goods and luggage, not guests.

There is a "No Entry" sign on the door of the hoist and this is the first time such an incident has occurred since the hostel opened in October last year, she said.

"The hostel is working with the authorities to investigate why the hoist's door was unlocked at the time," she said.

Since the incident, the hostel has stopped the use of the hoist, installed additional padlocks and placed more prominent signs to warn patrons.

"We are also working out various options with the family to address financial concerns relating to Dr Tan's medical expenses."

The hostel's staff also visited Dr Tan last Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Said Ms Chew: "We are deeply regretful that this incident happened on our premises. We are working with the authorities to find out what went wrong."

The police are also looking into the matter, said its spokesman.

Other Lift mishaps


May 2013

Mrs Lisa Lee, a lawyer, said she and her husband were on their way to their car on the fifth storey at an HDB carpark, when she felt the lift "plunge", then stop suddenly.

The Town Council said their initial checks showed that the lift at Block 54, Chin Swee Road, "overran the level" at the six-storey carpark. Mr Lee, an IT professional, fractured his right leg and underwent an operation.

December 2012

A lift ceiling panel collapsed and hit two children in one of the lifts serving an HDB block of flats in Bukit Panjang Road. Senior manager Henry Khong, 43, was in the lift with his daughter and son, aged nine and 11 respectively, when the incident happened.

May 2012

Filipino maid Clarita Abanes, 46, was on her way to the second storey of the four-storey Church of St Michael building for mass when she stopped to help an elderly parishioner, Madam Rose Tay, enter the lift shaft on the first storey.

Both women were hit by the descending lift car and trapped before being rescued. Ms Abanes died of her injuries a week later while Madam Tay survived.

The church lift, which was not registered with the authorities, had a history of malfunctioning. In 2008, two parishioners were trapped in the lift shaft, but escaped unscathed.

January 2011

Mr Rajan Ramasamy, 27, a lift technician, fell two storeys while carrying out scheduled maintenance works at Tanjong Katong Complex. He was dead when the Singapore Civil Defence Force arrived at the scene.

October 2010

A Bangladeshi construction worker in his mid-20s died at a Scotts Road building site after he was trapped inside a lift shaft.

August 2007

Mr Chua Yew Meng, 47, a lift technician, fell 13 storeys to his death in a lift shaft at Ocean Building, which was being demolished. He was not provided any lifelines or safety barricades when he worked in the lift shaft.

bang@sph.com.sg

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