(AFP) – Dec 23, 2008
SINGAPORE (AFP) — Singapore officials on Wednesday were investigating a fire at the world's biggest observation wheel that left almost 175 tourists trapped for hours, some of them dangling high in the sky.
Tuesday night's fire in the control room of the Singapore Flyer shut down the 42-storey high observation wheel, leaving customers stuck for six hours before power was restored.
A few lowered themselves in a sling-like device on a rope from one of the observation capsules before the Singapore Flyer eventually began turning again to allow other trapped passengers to walk out, an AFP reporter witnessed.
Power was restored at about 11:11 pm (1511 GMT).
A 70-year-old woman complaining of dizziness, and a boy who vomited were taken to hospital, said Lieutenant Colonel N. Subhas, of the paramedic and fire service.
"We thought we were going to have to abseil out of the capsule. Of course we were getting fairly panicky about that," said Anna-Louise Allen, an Australian tourist who was trapped with her daughter Amelia, husband Syd, and five other people in one capsule.
A total of 173 passengers were aboard the wheel when a small electrical fire caused the stoppage, said Steven Yeo, general manager of the attraction which began operations early this year.
The power outage at about 5:00 pm is the fourth at the Flyer, Yeo said.
In earlier incidents power was back on within one hour, he told reporters.
"It is a very peculiar incident," Yeo said of the latest case, which is under investigation.
He said some trapped passengers were "a bit disturbed" by the experience. Ten were rescued using harnesses and the other 163 walked out when power returned, he said.
AFP reporters saw one passenger sitting in a sling-like device slowly lower herself about 50 metres (yards) down from the end of one observation capsule to a platform below the wheel.
When she was down safely, onlookers applauded.
At least three other people escaped from the same capsule, including a child brought down in the arms of a firefighter, reporters saw.
The wheel is 165 metres (545 feet) tall, 30 metres bigger than Britain's London Eye, said Great Wheel Corp, which built the Flyer.
Enough electricity was brought back to power air conditioning in the stuck capsules, and to enable the intercom system to function, a Flyer spokeswoman said.
"I was just worried about my baby," said an Indonesian tourist, who gave his name only as Aditya. He was travelling with his two children, aged 11 months and five years old.
Allen, the Australian visitor, said she saw workers in hard hats climbing the wheel while she and her family were trapped. Allen said she was "not sure" at the time whether they would emerge unharmed.
"It was great until it stopped, and when it stopped there was a lack of information," her husband said.
Meta Hartono, an Indonesian visitor, said trapped passengers resorted to urinating in plastic bags while they were hanging in the air. "I love Singapore but I don't think I'll come to the Flyer again," she said.
Yeo said the Flyer would remain closed at least until Thursday.
Unlike old-style Ferris wheel carriages that hang in the open air, the Singapore Flyer and other large observation wheels feature fixed "capsules."
The 28 sleek-looking capsules -- about the size of a city bus -- can hold up to 28 people, and passengers can walk around during the slowly-moving ride.
The Singapore Flyer, worth about 240 million Singapore dollars (171 million US), was a private venture backed mainly by German investors and built by Mitsubishi Corp and Takenaka Corp of Japan.
Great Wheel Corp is also building wheels in Beijing and Berlin which will ultimately edge out the Singapore Flyer as the world's biggest, the chairman of Singapore Flyer, Florian Bollen, said before the attraction opened.
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