Horrifying incidents & disasters in Singapore

We always think Singapore is safe. And it is. There are few other places in the world where you can confidently take a stroll around your neighbourhood knowing nothing will happen to you.

With this feeling of security, it is easy to forget that our country has suffered its own set of disasters. We just hope that Singaporeans today who never knew about them don’t take our safety for granted. 

Here are 16 horrifying incidents and disasters in Singapore that probably aren’t in our history books.

1. Bukit Ho Swee Fire (25th May 1961)

bukit ho swee fire
Image credit: National Archives of Singapore

This fire was Singapore’s largest fire in history – taking away 4 lives, injuring 54, and rendering 16,000 people homeless after 2,800 attap houses were destroyed. Investigations began afterwards to pinpoint the cause of the fire.

But yet up to today, no one has found the exact cause of this incident. Some conspiracy theorists say that the fire was started on purpose in order to drive residents away in order to develop the area.

2. MacDonald House bombing (10th March 1965)

horrifying incidents & disasters singapore - macdonald house bombing newspaper
Image credit: The Independent

This incident resurfaced in the news in 2014 after Indonesia renamed a corvette warship “Usman Harun”, after the 2 commando bombers behind the MacDonald House bombing in 1965. Singapore promptly imposed a ban on this ship entering its ports and naval bases.

But what happened in the first place?

Believe it or not, Singapore was victim to a terrorist bombing due to Indonesia’s unhappiness with the merger of Singapore and Malaysia in 1965, which they openly opposed. To make their point, they sent 2 Indonesian marine commandos to plant the bomb, which resulted in the death of 2 bank employees and over 33 injured parties. 

macdonald house bombing
Image credit: National Archives of Singapore

In the end, the 2 young commandos, then 21-year-old Harun Said and Osman Mohamed Al, 23, were caught and hanged in 1968.

Though the MacDonald House bombing was by far the most serious, Singapore actually dealt with 42 attacks during the Indonesian-Malaysia Confrontation (Konfrontasi) between 1963 and 1966. Today, a memorial to the victims stands at Dhoby Ghaut Green and serves as a reminder of the tragedy.

3. The Spyros disaster (12th October 1978)

Image adapted from: Through the Lens via Facebook

At about 2pm on 12th October 1968, the Greek tanker “Spyros” exploded at Jurong Shipyard. It killed 76 people in the immediate vicinity and injured hundreds more, making it Singapore’s worst accident in terms of lives lost.

Many workers who were on their way back to the shipyard were burnt to death while others suffered serious burns and inhalation of toxic gases. The cause of the accident was later found to be due to a lack of safety practices during repair works on the vessel.

This tragic incident led to an immediate increase in safety regulations at the shipyard.

4. The murder of the Tan children (6th January 1979)

horrifying incidents & disasters singapore - tan children murder newspaper
Image credit: 12-3am Productions

The Geylang Bahru murders of the Tan children undeniably remains one of the most brutal homicides in Singapore’s history.

On the morning of 6th January 1979, Tan Kuen Chai and Lee Mei Ying left for work, leaving their 4 children – who were between the ages of 5-10 – at home. Mdm Lee phoned home thrice at 7.10am to remind the children to wake up for school to no avail. She then asked a neighbour to wake them up, but no one answered the door when she had gone to check.

Upon arriving home at 10am, the parents discovered their children cruelly slashed to death, with their bodies piled up in the bathroom.

tan children victims
Image credit: NewspaperSG

The police ended up questioning over 100 of the Tan family’s neighbours, but no suspects were identified and no weapons were ever recovered. 

However, police believe that the murderer probably was in close relation to the family as whoever did it seemed to know personal information about Mr Tan and Mdm Lee, such as the latter having undergone sterilisation. The couple received a Chinese New Year card a mere 2 weeks after the slaying, with a message in Chinese that read, “Now you can have no more offspring, ha ha ha”. 

The case remains unsolved till today.

5. Toa Payoh ritual murders (January – February 1981)

toa payoh ritual murders culprits
Image credit: Reddit

In 1981, police investigations into the murder of 2 young children, 9-year-old Agnes Ng Siew Heok and 7-year-old Ghazali bin Marzuki led to the capture of 3 murderers: Adrian Lim, wife Tan Mui Choo, and mistress Hoe Kah Hong.

Adrian Lim practised rituals as a phoney religion medium, preying on young women and luring them into having sex with him in exchange for beauty or to ward off evil spirits. He manipulated them with deceit and ill-practice, such as sexual “ritual massages” and even electroshock therapy.

horrifying incidents & disasters singapore - toa payoh ritual shrine
Lim’s home was found to have symbols and idols from various religions.

Image credit: irememberSG via Facebook

He was finally captured when he was found guilty of killing 2 children to draw attention away from his impending rape charge. Lim lured the children to his Toa Payoh flat, where he along with his 2 “holy wives” killed them slowly, drinking their blood, and drowning them systematically.

The trio tried to plead for insanity but was denied multiple times. They were hanged on 25 November 1988.

Book a guided tour on this and other horrifying incidents in Singapore.

6. The “Curry Murder case” (12th December 1984)

curry murder
Police alleged that Marimuthu was killed in his living quarters at Orchard Road Presbyterian Church.

Image credit: Jordi Alventosa via Google Maps

The body of Ayakanno Marimuthu, a caretaker for chalets in Singapore, was allegedly chopped up and cooked into curry. The dish was then disposed of in black plastic bags at several roadside rubbish bins.

A total of 6 suspects, including his wife, her brothers, and his mother-in-law, were arrested and initially charged for the murder of Marimuthu. They were eventually discharged due to the lack of evidence, but 3 of the 6 were re-arrested after the trial under the Criminal Law Act. They were then detained in Changi Prison for 4 years before being released.

This case remains unresolved to this day, and even a copycat murder was speculated to have happened almost 3 decades later in Australia in 2014.

7. New World Hotel disaster (15th March 1986)

horrifying incidents & disasters singapore - new world hotel
Image credit: Mindef

The 6-storey New World Hotel collapsed on 15th March 1986, claiming 33 lives instantly. Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), Singapore Civil Defence Force and hundreds of volunteers started the task of saving lives and removing rubble from the scene. Thankfully, 17 people were rescued.

The tragedy made the nation come together as one, with many unsung heroes offering their help with the plight of the victims’ families.

After an inquiry, it was concluded that the original structural engineer miscalculated the building’s structural load. Because the building was unable to support its own weight, it was only a matter of time before it would collapse.

8. Hijack of Singapore Airlines Flight 117 (26th March 1991)

horrifying incidents & disasters singapore - sia hijack
Flight 117 eight years after the hijacking.

Image credit: Airliners

Singapore Airlines flight number 117 was hijacked by 4 Pakistani terrorists, who took control of the plane mid-air after it departed from Subang Airport in Malaysia. The hijackers claimed to be from the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and started making demands, threatening to hurt passengers that were held hostage in the process.

The plane landed at Changi Airport for a refuel, and right before their stipulated deadline, specialist SAF commandos charged into the plane and killed the hijackers, freeing all 118 passengers and 9 crew members, none of whom were hurt.

9. Nicoll Highway Collapse (20th April 2004)

nicoll highway
Image credit: New Civil Engineer

During construction for the then-upcoming SMRT Circle Line, a tunnel at Nicoll Highway collapsed when its supporting structure gave way. It led to the largest highway accident in Singapore history.

Investigations revealed that the cause of the collapse was likely due to the retaining wall not being able to withstand the stress of the construction works going on at the time.

Rescue searches for surviving workers lasted 3 days, with 4 people dead and 3 injured. One of the deceased’s bodies was never found in the rubble. The construction was subsequently halted for 8 months, with the project director fined $8,000 for negligence.

10. Murder of Huang Na (10th October 2004)

horrifying incidents & disasters singapore - huang na
Huang Na.

Image credit: Wikipedia

Huang Na was the 8-year-old daughter of 2 Chinese nationals, Huang Qingrong and Huang Shuying, who were living in Pasir Panjang. She was reported missing on 10th October 2004. This resulted in a 3-week nationwide search with over 70,000 leaflets being distributed.

In the end, she was found murdered by Took Leng How, a Malaysian vegetable packer at Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre. The sickest thing was how her murderer had sexually assaulted her then stomped on her to ensure her death. Took received the death sentence in 2005.

11. The “Slayers” suicide pact (23th August 2008)

A year before the incident, Ku Witaya, who was 15 at the time, had a dream that he and his friends had been “chosen by God” to be “Slayers”. He also believed that it was up to them to save the world from “demons”, and as a result, told the group that they had to come together to train their spiritual powers.

In 2006, it was also reported that Witaya had convinced his friends that he was able to communicate with spirits by entering trances.

horrifying incidents & disasters singapore - slayers suicide pact victims
Sia Chan Hong (L) and Ku Witaya (R) died as a result of their pact.

Image credit: Wiki.sg

Things took a deadly turn on 20th August 2008 when Witaya claimed that the group were not strong enough to be “Slayers”, and that committing suicide was the only way they could be “resurrected” as one. 3 days later, the boys headed to Witaya’s flat in order to carry out the deed. 

Witaya held hands with his best friend, Chan Hong, and proceeded to jump off a window ledge. The remaining 5 members of the group backed out after they saw the scene and heard the latter asking them not to jump.

slayers journal
One of the entries from a journal that was found.

Image credit: Blacksticks

Investigators later retrieved the boys’ diaries, which detailed their thoughts leading up to the day of their death.

12. The Yishun triple murders (18th September 2008)

horrifying incidents & disasters singapore - yishun triple murders
Image credit: Sammyboy

Wang Zhi Jian had arrived in Singapore from China for only 10 days when he committed the brutal Yishun triple murders

He stabbed his girlfriend Zhang Meng multiple times after a quarrel. When her daughter Feng Jianyu awoke from the commotion, he proceeded to stab her too. Both died from their injuries. 

Fearing he would be exposed, he then entered a second room to attack Zhang’s roommates – another mother-daughter pair. The mother was forced to escape through the kitchen window and fell to her death, while her daughter was badly injured.

He was sentenced to death after a 4-year trial.

13. Helper’s body found in HDB water tank (16th May 2011)

water tank
Image for illustrative purposes only.

Image credit: Asiagroup Crane & Transport Rental via Facebook

Residents of Block 686B Woodlands Drive 73 woke up to find that their tap water had turned yellow and frothy. The horrifying reason: the body of Indonesian helper Mdm Ruliyawati had been found in the water tank.

A coroner’s report revealed 2 wounds on the back of Madam Ruliyawati, which was speculated to have been caused by her then boyfriend Mr Md Repon Mostafa. However, he was later awarded a discharge not amounting to an acquittal.

14. The Little India riot (8th December 2013)

little india riot
Image credit: DNAIndia

On 8th December 2013, a riot involving over 400 migrant workers erupted after a bus knocked down and killed an Indian national at the junction of Race Course Road and Hampshire Road. The situation lasted for about 2 hours, and the Special Operations Command and Gurhka Contingent had to be activated as a result.

An ambulance was set ablaze and rioters hurled whatever they could find around while several police cars were overturned and burnt. This resulted in 18 injuries and over 30 arrests for rioting.

This was Singapore’s first major riot in over 40 years since the 1969 race riots.

15. Tanjong Pagar fatal crash (13th February 2021)

A total of 5 were killed in a fatal crash at Tanjong Pagar in the wee hours of 13th February 2021 – the 2nd day of Chinese New Year that year. The driver had taken 4 of his friends on a speed run along Tanjong Pagar Road before he lost control of the vehicle and crashed into an empty shophouse.

horrifying incidents & disasters singapore - tanjong pagar bmw crash
The BMW crash that happened on 13th February 2021.

Image credit: WapCar

Eyewitnesses then reported that the car burst into flames, and the girlfriend of the driver tried in vain to pull the victims out of the burning car. The victims were pronounced dead at the scene, while the woman was rushed to the hospital to treat her severe burns.

horrifying incidents & disasters singapore - ferrari crash
Image credit: SGCarMart

Sadly, this is not the only horrific car accident Singapore has seen over the years. In May 2012, China national Ma Chi’s speeding Ferrari collided with a taxi and motorcycle while he tried to beat a red light at Victoria Street. The accident caused the death of Shigemi Ito, the Japanese passenger of the taxi.

16. Culpable homicide of twin sons (21st January 2022)

greenridge crescent playground
Greenridge Crescent Playground, where the bodies of the two 11-year-old boys were found.

Image credit: Alvin Khoo via Google Maps

A 49-year-old father, Xavier Yap Jung Houn, was accused of causing the deaths of his 11-year-old twin sons with special needs. Their bodies were recovered at a covered canal at Greenridge Crescent Playground on 21st January 2022.

While Yap was initially charged with first-degree murder, this was dropped to culpable homicide without the death penalty following a psychiatric assessment at the Institute of Mental Health. The assessment found that he was suffering from major depressive disorder at the time of the murders.

The case is still ongoing and Yap could be looking at life imprisonment and caning, or up to 20 years in jail, a fine, and caning if found guilty.

Bonus: SilkAir Flight 185 (19th December 1997)

silkair plane debris
Image credit: Wikipedia

This didn’t happen in Singapore, but it resonates strongly with us till today. SilkAir was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Singapore Airlines before it ceased operations in May 2021.

Before this incident, they had a perfect aviation accident track record. It is also important to note that later, in 2000, Singapore Airlines SQ006 would crash into flames on a closed runway in Taiwan, killing 83 out of the 179 people on board, including 12 Singaporeans.

The 1997 SilkAir crash was particularly horrifying as it killed all 97 passengers and 7 crew members on board, including 40 Singaporeans. The plane had entered a near-vertical dive in its last minute, travelling faster than the speed of sound just seconds before hitting the Musi River in Sumatra.

Everyone on board was believed to have disintegrated upon impact and no remains were ever found.

horrifying incidents & disasters singapore - silkair plane larger debris
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

It was suspected that the cause of the crash could have been pilot suicide. Captain Tsu Way Ming was found to have obtained a life insurance policy a week before the crash, and that he had accrued a loss of $1.2 million in shares. 

The date of the crash also happened to coincide with the 18th anniversary of the death of 4 of his squadron mates from military flight training.

Although the evidence sounded compelling, it was not sufficient enough. It was eventually concluded that the incident was the result of a defective servo valve that was controlling the aircraft rudder.

Lawsuits against SilkAir filed by 6 families were turned down by the Singapore High Court as it could not be proven the crash was intentional.

The darker side of Singapore’s history

We may live in a safe country, but we should never take our nation’s peace for granted. These are just some events from the past that have shown us that unexpected things can still happen in our backyard – whether an unforeseen disaster or a mindless attack.

But we have the capability to come together as one in times of disaster and distress. Let’s hope these incidents remain few and far between.

Less horrifying reads:

Cover image adapted from: Asiagroup Crane & Transport Rental via Facebook & New Civil Engineer
Originally published on 26th March 2014 by Nicole Lee. Last updated by Raiz on 26th June 2023.

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