Man dies in lift mishap: 'One minute I was frying bee hoon for his birthday, next, he's dead'

Family members of the late Mr Lim Hang Chiang at his wake on 16 May 2016.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

On Sunday morning, she was whipping up a feast for her husband's advance 78th birthday celebration that night.

But about four hours later, Madam Kwek Sar Moi, 77, found herself rushing to Changi General Hospital (CGH), preparing for the worst.

Her husband Lim Hang Chiang, 77, had fractured his skull after a fall. He was bleeding in the brain and could no longer recognise anyone.

Mr Lim eventually died in the wee hours yesterday, after falling into a coma. His family decided to take him off life support when told he would at best be left in a vegetative state.

He would have turned 78 this Friday.

"In such a short span of time, everything changed for me. I barely slept. My heart is really hurting right now," Madam Kwek, who spoke in Mandarin, told The New Paper last night, shaking her head sadly.

The incident happened on Sunday at about 10.30am at Block 247, Pasir Ris Street 21.

Mr Lim was heading to a nearby coffee shop to have breakfast with the older of his two sons.

Riding his mobility scooter, which he started using seven years ago after a hip replacement surgery, Mr Lim entered the lift on the 10th storey and sat with his back facing the doors.

When the lift reached the ground floor, the lift car was parked about 15cm above the floor instead of level with it, evening daily Lianhe Wanbao reported.

Mr Lim, who did not notice the fault, reversed his mobility scooter out of the lift as he usually would.

Both he and the mobility scooter fell over, with Mr Lim hitting the back of his head.

Madam Kwek only found out about the fall when she returned from the market that morning.

See also: Elderly man dies after toppling over lift gap in Pasir Ris

PAIN

She told TNP: "(My husband) felt pain on the back of his head and asked me to check. But there was no bleeding, just a red patch and some minor abrasions. I made him ice the back of his head, but thought it was nothing serious."

But when her husband started feeling nauseous an hour after the accident, their elder son took him to CGH.

There, Mr Lim went through an X-ray and two CT scans. He also vomited a few times.

Meanwhile, Madam Kwek continued frying bee hoon at home.

"I even told (my husband) to come back home after his check-up so we can eat together. I thought it was just a check-up, and they would all come home together," the retiree said.

Unknown to her was her husband's rapidly deteriorating condition, until a call from her son came at 2pm.

"(My son) told me my husband stopped recognising him. I started panicking, threw all the food into the fridge and rushed to the hospital," Madam Kwek said.

The Lim family spent the rest of the night - what would have been his birthday celebration - watching over the 77-year-old man as he lay in the hospital bed fighting for his life.

Madam Kwek said: "The doctors said his left brain was bleeding quite heavily. The left part of the brain controls his memory, that's why he couldn't recognise us any more.

"We tried calling his name but he was already in a coma. They didn't operate on him as the surgery would turn him into a vegetable."

She then muttered to herself: "Everything happened so quickly. It was just a few hours."

At about 2.15am yesterday, the family decided to take Mr Lim off life support. The doctors had said that at best, Mr Lim would be in a vegetative state, Madam Kwek said.

It was a decision Madam Kwek did not agree with initially.

"I thought to let him get past the night, and see what happens in the morning. But I later realised if we went ahead, his suffering will be cut short," she said quietly.

The Lims are now grappling with the grief of losing their family member to a lift mishap.

The youngest son, Mr Lim Keng Swee, 45, told TNP he was relying on his faith to take him through the tough period.

Fighting back tears, he questioned how regularly the lifts at his block were maintained.

The workplace safety executive, who lives with his parents in the executive flat at Pasir Ris, said he had noticed problems with the lift in the recent months.

Madam Kwek also recalled falling as she entered that lift - an incident she now suspects was caused by the poorly parked lift car. There are two lifts in their block.

The younger Mr Lim said he is in touch with the authorities to get to the bottom of the incident.

"It's an irony, the accident. Here I am telling workers to be safe, and there he is, my dad, getting into this accident," he said with a helpless shrug.

'I wish Ah Gong will still be at home'

About 17 years ago, he had a stroke.

Seven years ago, he started relying on a mobility scooter - a gift from his youngest son - after a hip replacement surgery left his limbs weak.

Mr Lim Hang Chiang, 77, also had to watch his blood pressure.

But despite these ailments, the former taxi driver remained fiercely independent until his death.

His daughter-in-law Wang Ying, 37, told The New Paper in Mandarin: "He often went out on his own to buy items, and for his routine medical check-ups."

BLOOD PRESSURE

The casino dealer, who said she is still coming to terms with her loss, said Mr Lim was someone who took his health seriously.

"For many years, he had been meticulously monitoring his blood sugar and blood pressure daily, recording the figures in a notebook," said Madam Wang.

At home, Mr Lim did not like to bother others.

Although the family hired a foreign domestic worker, Mr Lim would wake up at 4.30am to cook his porridge for breakfast and take his medicine.

"That's how he was - very considerate and thoughtful," said Madam Wang.

She said he was also a doting grandfather to his six grandchildren, including her six-year-old daughter.

"He was always happiest when he could see all of his grandchildren together in this house", she said.

Mr Lim was so attached to his grandchildren that when Madam Wang told him she was planning to take her daughter to China this June, he said he would miss his "precious" granddaughter's cheerful presence.

The affection was reciprocal.

Madam Wang said her daughter, on hearing that her beloved grandfather had died, wistfully said: "I wish Ah Gong will still be at home, every day."

Expert: Lift sensors could be faulty

When Madam Kwek Sar Moi fell while entering the lift last Thursday, she thought she had tripped over herself.

A few days later, on Sunday, her husband Mr Lim Hang Chiang, 77, suffered a fatal fall because the lift had stopped slightly above the floor, creating a "step".

Madam Kwek, 77, told The New Paper in Mandarin: "I thought I tripped over myself. Thinking back, it must have been the same problem with the lift."

The elderly couple are not the only ones who encountered problems with the lift - one of two at the block at Pasir Ris Street 21.

Resident Loh Cheng Sew, 62, said she noticed that the lift car has been stopping slightly above the floor in the past few days.

"It wasn't like that previously. I also noticed that the lift display will show that it is on the third storey even though it just took me up to the ninth storey," she told TNP.

But resident Shikh Omar, 19, said he has never faced any issues of this nature.

A lift engineer who declined to be named said that when the lift car is not level with the floor, the lift sensors could have been insensitive.

In a lift, one sensor detects the levelling, which decides whether the lift car is parked level to the floor. Another detects the door opening zone.

The lift car and landing doors can still open if the levelling sensor is not working - which means the lift is not parked level to the floor - as long the other sensor detects the lift car within a certain zone, the engineer explained.

BE ALERT

"Some people look at their mobile phones while they walk and may trip. My advice to passengers is this: Always focus when you step in or step out. Make sure the lift is level with the ground," he said.

Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council chairman Zainal Sapari told TNP that the relevant authorities have been notified, and investigations are ongoing.

"BCA (Building & Construction Authority) came down in the morning and they have actually asked us to appoint an authorised examiner to investigate.

"The lift will be suspended pending the outcome of this investigation," he said.

The Member of Parliament, who looks after Pasir Ris East, said he had visited Mr Lim in the hospital after he was notified of the incident.

"Mr Lim had finished his X-ray and CT scans when I saw him in the hospital.

"I gave my number to Mr Lim's son for him to update me if he needed any help.

"We also sent two of our officers to the hospital to render any assistance.

"I kept in contact with his son. When I woke up this morning, I saw a message from him telling me his father had passed away," Mr Zainal said.

The MP said an investigation report is expected to be completed within this month.

When asked if the incident could have happened because of its old age - the lifts in that block have never been renovated - Mr Zainal said the overhaul for lifts is usually done once every 28 years.

"But we ensure that the lift goes through cyclical maintenance. Usually we are very careful.

"The authorised examiner is checking through the records as well as the lift maintenance schedule.

"I've asked my Town Council to give the fullest co-operation to the authorities," the MP said, adding that he cannot divulge any further details due to pending investigations.

Other cases

MARCH 2016
An Indonesian domestic worker was flung up when the lift she was in suddenly shot up from the third to the 20th storey.
The 36-year-old, whose employer lives on the fifth storey of a block in Ang Mo Kio, said she now takes the stairs whenever possible.

OCT 2015
An 85-year-old woman's hand was severed in a lift accident at Block 322, Tah Ching Road.The widow had been trying to stop the lift doors from closing before her dog, which was on a leash, could enter the lift. She also fell and broke her left leg in the incident.

AUGUST 2014
A cleaner in his 70s suffered serious injuries after he fell 4m down a service lift shaft at One Devonshire condominium.
The service lift has an open-walled metal platform and is used to move rubbish bins from the basement to the first storey, where they are collected by garbage trucks.

FEBRUARY 2014
Four women were trapped in a lift at UE Square. The lift rumbled and shook violently after one of the women entered the lift on the 10th storey.The lift is believed to have plunged three storeys. The women were rescued about 1½ hours later.


This article was first published on May 17, 2016.
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