Singapore’s Big Wheel Reopens after Fire

SINGAPORE ~ The world’s biggest observation wheel reopened this week day after a pre-Christmas fire trapped passengers for hours and led to a one-month shutdown of the attraction.

Singapore Flyer spokesmen said it had obtained a license allowing it to operate again.

The Flyer said authorities issued their approval after German-based firm TUV SUD gave the attraction “a clean bill of health” following tests of a new backup system for turning the wheel. TUV SUD says it has tested amusement rides around the world.

“We are taking every precaution possible to make sure this is the safest system in the world,” Florian Bollen, the Flyer’s chairman, told reporters.

In addition to the attraction’s main drive and control system and its backup, the wheel now has an additional, “completely independent” backup system, he said. As a further precaution two winches, each of which can manually turn the wheel, have also been installed, Bollen said.

The Flyer began carrying passengers shortly before noon on Monday. Bollen said that by mid-afternoon it had carried more than 1,000 people.

Passengers buying tickets for the first “flight” said they had no safety concerns.

“Because, actually, after it’s broken down I would expect it to be working fine now,” said Mark Haslett, 49, a tourist from England who showed up at the wheel unaware that it had been closed.

Another visitor, Peter Prakongtham, from Bangkok, said he was looking forward to his ride and said the attraction was well-managed.

“I feel confident that it should operate well. It is not like the small flyers that we see in the rural areas,” he said.

Pavan Shetty, 31, an Indian tourist who rode the wheel with two friends, said the Flyer’s shutdown did not bother him.

“I think it’s fine,” he said after disembarking. “This is our last day in Singapore and we really wanted to visit this.”

On December 23 a small electrical fire, which police have ruled was an accident, trapped 173 people inside the Flyer’s enclosed cabins until power was restored six hours later, but 10 were rescued dramatically using harnesses.

“It’s something which we don’t intend to ever do again,” Bollen said.

Two passengers were taken to hospital after the December incident.

Bollen said that although the original drive system had “a certain redundancy”, or backup, “what we learned out of this incident is that it can fail.”

Bollen said the Flyer would now also use infra-red scanners to check for “hotspots” in the equipment and allow for early detection of fire.

Waiting to join the first passengers as service resumed, he said the authorities and contractors worked night and day to get the Flyer ready.

“I feel very happy,” he said, expressing confidence that “business will be good again.”

He told reporters that although the attraction had lost millions of dollars during the month-long closure, the attraction was well-insured and the impact on its financial viability would be “zero.”

The 42-storey Flyer is 165 meters high, 30 meters taller than Britain’s London Eye, the company that built it said.

Since the accident, emergency supplies including water and blankets have been placed in every observation capsule, the Flyer said.

The wheel has 28 capsules which can each hold 28 people during the slowly-moving ride. At its busiest times before the December fire, the wheel had carried 1,500 people an hour, Bollen said.

December’s shutdown was not the first at the Flyer, a major Singapore attraction.

Less than three weeks before the fire, dozens were stuck in another incident, and there were also two other stoppages last year, the Flyer earlier said.

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