Monday, 21 April 2014

Remembering Nicoll Highway Collapse in 2004

Colleagues pay respects to "hero" Heng in Nicoll Highway collapse
By Eileen Poh, Channel NewsAsia, 20 Apr 2014

It has been 10 years since the Nicoll Highway collapse, but foreman Heng Yeow Pheow's body was never found.

On Sunday afternoon, his former colleagues and bosses were at the place where the incident occurred to pay their respects to the man they remembered as a "hero".

"Say my thank you to Ah Heng..." says a Thai worker.

Ten years may have passed since the Nicoll Highway collapse, but emotions are still raw for construction worker Phornamdaeng Thiticha when he speaks of his former supervisor.

The Thai national was one of the eight workers Heng Yeow Pheow pulled to safety.

The 40-year-old did not make it out himself and his body was never found.

In Heng's memory, his former colleagues from Kori Holdings have placed a memorial stone at the accident site.

And since then, it has been a yearly ritual for them to pay their respects to Mr Heng.

Mr Hooi Yu Koh, managing director of Kori Holdings, said: "Sometimes we meet up together, sometimes there may not be that many people. But probably because today is a Sunday. So many more came than previously before."

Among the prayer items were a pair of white gloves.

They were placed there by Mr Hooi, who said the gloves were given to him by the Singapore Civil Defence Force when he participated in the final attempt to locate Heng's body.

Mr Hooi said: "Those gloves have a lot of meaning to me. It is the last piece of gear I was holding in my hand. And it was the closest that I thought was nearest to him before the search needs to be called off. I still keep the gloves in my car throughout the 10 years till now."

Heng's colleagues said they hope to continue the yearly ritual for as long as they are able to.

Tribute to Nicoll Highway hero at Tampines park
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 16 Jun 2014

TEN years ago, foreman Heng Yeow Pheow lost his life helping his workers to escape the chaos of the Nicoll Highway collapse.

His widow Sally Heng, 45, and children, Daniel, 20, and Joann, 18, chose Tampines Tree Park because the family had gone there often.

"I'm proud that my father stood firm by his values and beliefs. I'm proud that he selflessly went forward to save his co-workers, even though he knew the danger ahead," said Daniel, an army regular, to the neighbours and friends who gathered at the park yesterday to show their support.

Mr Heng, then 40, was one of four people killed on April 20, 2004, when MRT tunnelling works for the Circle Line led to a massive cave-in and collapse of Nicoll Highway.

His body was never found as rescuers had to call off the search due to the unstable ground.

Yesterday, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held to unveil the new metal bench with a plaque honouring Mr Heng.

Addressing the group in Mandarin, his daughter Joann, a polytechnic student, said: "These 10 years have been very difficult for us, but thanks to all your support, we have made it through.

"Thank you for remembering his bravery, and thank you for watching my brother and I grow up," she added, wiping away tears.

At the dedication ceremony were some of Mr Heng's former colleagues and bosses from engineering and construction company Kori Holdings, including three of the eight workers he saved.

One of them was a tearful Mr Phornamdaeng Thiticha, 46.

Said the Thai national, who had worked under Mr Heng for 10 years before the accident: "It's been a long time already but my heart still feels for the family.

"I really thank him on behalf of the workers and the company."

The memorial bench is part of the year-old Adopt-a-Bench programme in Tampines Changkat.

The constituency's Citizens Consultative Committee is covering the cost of this bench, which comes to $1,500.

Ms Irene Ng, an MP for Tampines GRC and grassroots adviser for Tampines Changkat, said she hopes the tribute "will serve as a lasting reminder to future generations that we had a hero among us".

Madam Cheryl Chew, 47, who has lived next door to the Hengs for over 20 years, said that husband and wife used to babysit her son when he was younger.

After Mr Heng's death, things were very difficult for Mrs Heng because the children were very young, she said. "We try to talk to her and help her not to dwell on painful memories."

The two families and others often eat dinner together and have steamboat meals on special occasions such as birthdays or Chinese New Year, she said.

"I'm proud of her because her children have grown up to become very mature and well-behaved," Madam Chew added.

Yesterday being Father's Day, Daniel said he would have liked to tell his father that he loves him.

"When I book out from camp and come home, I still like to take a walk in the park," he said.

"Having the bench there... makes me feel like my father is there to give me the support I need, like providing a platform for me to have a rest during the night."

SCDF officer looks back at 2004 Nicoll Highway tragedy
By Imelda Saad, Channel NewsAsia, 18 Apr 2014

They were working round the clock for four days under conditions described as the most difficult and dangerous operation since the Hotel New World collapse in 1986.

The Nicoll Highway cave-in, which happened 10 years ago, left an indelible imprint on Singapore's elite Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (DART).

Since then, the team has enhanced its capabilities for under-water search and rescue operations.

Lieutenant-Colonel (LTC) Kadir Maideen, commander of 2nd Division at the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), said: "This is the same helmet that I used, cleaned up a bit, but many of the scratches are still here, the knocks that I had on the top of my head and all that."

LTC Kadir remembers vividly the day his team was activated on 24 April 2004. He was then commander of the DART team.

LTC Kadir said: "It was only upon reaching the edge of Nicoll Highway and when we saw the whole cavity created by the collapsed MRT structural works, then it dawned upon me... this is what we are going to work in, it's not really a bridge collapse but a collapse of a construction site, with the MRT tunnel and the beams and all that."

What greeted the team was a cave-in spanning the six-lane highway, resulting in a 30-metre deep cavity.

It was unlike any other structural collapse the DART team had faced.

LTC Kadir said: "We've done search and rescue operations in an urban setting, collapsed building and all that, but this... we've got a tide coming in, at that time the Marina Barrage was still under construction, so the tide was in, there's water, sea water."

The rescuers had to work in chest-high, turbulent, muddy water, amidst unstable sharp exposed metal and concrete structures.

At that time, they were not equipped with proper equipment to conduct underwater search and rescue operations, so they improvised by using masks worn for fire-fighting operations to dive into the murky waters.

They used their bare hands to try and search for bodies.

LTC Kadir said: "As you work, everything around you was creaking, the i-beams were moving and creaking and these were all safety challenges for us, the specialists on site took lots of calculated risks to perform the operations.

"The breathing apparatus sets, the cylinders are composite cylinders and they tend to float so we couldn't be having them harnessed to our backs. We had to again improvise, having longer hoses, have the cylinders somewhere else, the hose transports air to the face mask, so the user only has a face mask on him so that he can go under-water without having a composite cylinder push his body up."

Since then, the SCDF has implemented several measures to enhance its search and rescue capabilities. These include certifying all DART specialists in diving and water rescue skills, investing in sonar equipment to track its divers and detect drowned victims, as well as purchasing water pumps powerful enough to suck out silt ridden, muddy waters.

LTC Kadir said: "When you improvise, you may not work optimally but when you have good specific equipment for that work, then you can operate optimally in that situation."

Beyond enhancing its operational capabilities, LTC Kadir said the Nicoll Highway incident has left a deep impression among Singaporeans of the work the SCDF does.

LTC Kadir said: "One of the impact was the public perception of what SCDF is doing. We've always responded to many fire incidents locally, it's always featured in the media but for these three, three-and-a-half days, there was a lot of media focus on it and the public really got to see what SCDF could do. They also understood that we had specialist teams able and capable of doing specialised operations like the operations we did at Nicoll Highway.

"Over the years, post-Nicoll Highway, I also thought that people came and joined SCDF, made it their career because of what they saw at Nicoll Highway, they were inspired by the work that we did."

One stone located just a few metres away from Nicoll Highway was laid by the construction company involved in the Circle Line project.

It was placed there in memory of the victims who lost their lives during the Nicoll Highway collapse.

It bears the name of Mr Heng Yeow Pheow, the 40-year-old foreman, whose body was never recovered.

No comments:

Post a Comment