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35 years ago in Singapore: The Hotel New World collapse of 15 March, 1986

Staff Writer, Singapore
·Editorial Team
·2-min read
PHOTO: The New Straits Times Press (Malaysia) Berhad
PHOTO: The New Straits Times Press (Malaysia) Berhad

SINGAPORE — 35 years ago today, the Lian Yak Building, better known as Hotel New World, collapsed at about 11.15am on 15 March, 1986.

Standing at the junction of Owen Road and Serangoon Road, the six-storey building was occupied by a nightclub, a branch of the Industrial & Commercial Bank and the 67-room Hotel New World.

Singapore's first major civil disaster sparked a rescue and recovery operation involving some 500 personnel from the Singapore Civil Defence Force, Singapore Police Force, Singapore Armed Forces and the now-defunct Singapore Fire Service.

Tunneling experts from Ireland and the United Kingdom, who were working on the construction of the MRT line, also played a crucial role in the rescue.

David Stewart, a senior resident engineer with the Mass Rapid Transit Corporation or MRTC (later renamed SMRT) at the time, was among the rescuers.

He told Yahoo News Singapore in 2016, “I’d never seen anything like it before. It was like a demolition site. If it happened today… we’d be imagining it was a sort of terrorist act.”

All told, 33 people perished and 17 were saved.

A Commission of Inquiry appointed by former President Wee Kim Wee later concluded that the collapse of Hotel New World was down to structural faults, and shoddy design and construction.

Today, the seven-storey Fortuna Hotel stands in its place.

In 2016, Yahoo News Singapore arranged a reunion between Jerina Tan, the first victim to be rescued, and former fireman Ali Ismail, who pulled her out of the wreckage. Trapped for almost eight hours, rescuers were on the verge of amputating Tan's leg to save her when Ali managed to set her free.

It was the first time they had met in 30 years.

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Related stories:

Hotel New World: The day it fell

Hotel New World: The men who risked their lives

Hotel New World: When survivor and rescuer meet