5 Facts About 1986’s Hotel New World Collapse That S’poreans Probably Didn’t Know Of


Last Updated on 2023-06-30 , 6:44 pm

The Story Behind the Hotel New World Collapse: Lessons from Singapore’s Tragic Past

15 March 1986, for some it was just an ordinary day. But for many, it marked the tragic collapse of the Hotel New World, forever branding this day as a poignant reminder of Singapore’s largest civil disaster. This is the story of the New World Hotel Singapore disaster, the catastrophic event that resulted in a sombre change in the nation’s architectural narrative.

The Hotel New World Collapse: 33 Lives Lost In 60 Seconds

The cataclysmic collapse of the Hotel New World, also known as the Lian Yak Building, resulted in a swift and terrifying loss of 33 lives within less than a minute. Nevertheless, the Singapore spirit remained unbroken, keeping 17 survivors alive amidst the debris.

The Lian Yak Building, standing at the junction of Serangoon Road and Owen road between 1969 and 1971, was home to a vibrant nightclub, a busy bank, and 67 hotel rooms. Alarmingly, staff working in the building had spotted cracks in the walls, joking that the Hotel New World Singapore was on the verge of collapsing. Sadly, their banter was closer to the truth than they could ever have imagined. This structural weakness had plagued the building since its conception.

Why Did Hotel New World Collapse? Architectural Error at its Worst

Contrary to initial assumptions, the Hotel New World collapse was not the result of an explosion or subpar construction. Neither swampy land nor subway tunnelling led to this Singapore building collapse. The proximity to the ongoing MRT system construction was not to blame either, as it was a considerable distance from the ill-fated Hotel New World.

Investigators identified critical evidence within the nightclub, where a hostess reported that a dance floor pillar had cracked the night before the collapse. The team initially thought that the additional weight of water tanks and air conditioning units were too much for the pillars to bear.

However, they made a chilling discovery: the building’s original engineer had made a grave miscalculation. He only accounted for the live load – the weight of occupants, furniture, and fixtures – neglecting the dead load, the weight of the building itself. Thus, the new world hotel collapse was not a matter of if but when.

A Test of Preparedness: Singapore’s First Large-scale Disaster

Over 500 personnel from Singapore’s civil defence forces, fire services, police force, and armed forces were summoned for the five-day rescue operation. Despite the heartfelt outpouring of help, the rescuers were not adequately trained to handle a disaster of this scale.

In the face of the New World Hotel Singapore catastrophe, the rescuers adopted the cut-and-lift method. This strategy involved the removal of beams and debris, saving 11 people trapped in the rubble. But as the clock ticked, they needed a faster solution.

Fortunately, tunneling experts from Britain, Ireland, and Japan, working on the MRT system, lent their aid. Fearing that heavy machinery could endanger more lives, they recommended a tunneling approach.

The Risky Rescue: Courage in the Rubble of the Hotel New World Singapore

Tunneling proved to be slow and hazardous. The engineers decided to enter through the ventilation shafts, wading through knee-deep water and past crushed cars, all in the potent smell of petrol. One wrong spark could spell another disaster. After pumping out the water and petrol, they began the risky process of hacking through the rubble.

Seven hours of intense labour led the Irish engineers through nine meters of debris before the rubble began collapsing further, caving in the newly-made tunnel. Despite the dangerous conditions, the determined tunnelers continued their mission, saving six more lives.

Medical Heroes in the Dark: The Hotel New World Collapse

Rescue helicopters stood by at Farrer Park, ready to rush the injured to hospitals. Yet, extracting survivors from the rubble was not an easy task. It took over half an hour to pull out each person, many covered in sand, bleeding profusely.

Medical professionals and volunteers from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and Civil Defence came together to render medical assistance in this challenging environment. For example, Civil Defence volunteer, Dr Edward Pang, had to set up a drip while lying on his stomach in the dark and cramped environment.

A Heartwarming Reunion: Survivor and Rescuer

One of the survivors, Jerina Tan Oi Ling, was working as a hotel receptionist at the time of the disaster. After eight gruelling hours trapped under debris, her saviour, former fireman Ali Ismail, crawled into the darkness to rescue her. 30 years later, their emotional reunion marked a poignant chapter in the aftermath of the Hotel New World Singapore disaster.

Life after the Hotel New World Collapse

The collapse of Hotel New World remains one of the gravest tragedies in Singapore’s history, but it has also proven to be a crucible for the nation’s resilience. The self-sacrifice, unity, and mental fortitude exhibited by all the rescuers in the face of the disaster echo loudly in Singapore’s history. As we tread into the future, may we always remember the lessons learned from the Hotel New World collapse.