On 20 April 2004, a temporary retaining wall of the tunnel at the Nicoll Highway Circle Line MRT station construction site collapsed at around 3.30pm.
The ground above caved in, bringing down the steel supports over the tunnel and a portion of Nicoll Highway. As a result, a 30-metre-deep ravine was created. Tremors from the collapse were felt at Golden Mile Complex nearby.
Within 10 minutes, the Singapore Civil Defence Force Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (DART) arrived at the scene. 75 officers and their rescue dogs quickly moved into action, with more officers and almost 20 rescue vehicles deployed later to locate four men who were unaccounted for. However, the search and rescue mission was challenging as it was unlike any structural collapse the team had encountered before. The SCDF rescuers had to work in chest-high, turbulent, murky waters when the tide was in, all while navigating unstable debris, exposed metal, and concrete.
The SCDF search and rescue went on for four days, till 23 April, when it became too dangerous to continue the search for the last man — Mr Heng Yeow Pheow. After the incident, colleagues came forward to share the story of the late-Mr Heng’s heroism: that when the worksite was crumbling, the construction foreman pulled eight of his workers to safety and risked his own life so they could escape. Today, two commemorative structures — one behind Golden Mile Complex and one in Tampines Tree Park — pay tribute to his selfless act.
17 years on, we remember the heroism of rescuers and victims, in what is still one of Singapore’s worst worksite disasters. We must strive to keep each other safe and be prepared for any emergency, so that such tragedies remain as memories we honour, but do not experience.