Random Reflections

Penang’s 1988’s Jetty Collapse Tragedy

I was watching a local Mandarin news programme on Astro when I saw the preview of a special segment on a victim of the 1988’s Penang ferry terminal tragedy. No idea what I am talking about?

Well on the 31st July, 1988, the Sultan Abdul Halim Ferry Terminal (Penang Ferry Jetty) in Butterworth, suddenly collapsed due to severe overcrowding and weak steel bars structure of the jetty. The collapse caused 32 deaths and at least 1674 people were injured, most of the devotees rushing to the Penang Island for the Kuan Yin Festival (Goddess of Mercy) on that fateful day.

The special segment of the news programme were about the TV show’s effort to locate a victim, that were photographed among the debris, trapped together with the body of her dead mother. 21 years later, they managed to locate her, and interviewed the now 20-ish woman.

That spurred me to google the incident on the net but to my surprise, I found next to nothing. For a major tragedy, I find it hard to believe so little about it has been recorded/posted/archived in the cyberspace. I remember all the cover pages of the major newspapers on the day after the incident were all about it, and people were talking about it for weeks.

Recently there were numerous incidents of collapsed stadium, collapsed roads, cracked flyovers, collapsed ceilings, leaking pipeworks and other avoidable debacles in this country. Thank God so far no lives are lost. I hate to see changes only after lives have been “sacrificed” unneccesary. May the people/government that have been given authorities/responsibilities to be accountable, honest, incorruptible and efficient in what they do.

This posting is dedicated to the 32 lost lives and thousand others who are affected by the jetty tragedy. Lest we forget…


14 thoughts on “Penang’s 1988’s Jetty Collapse Tragedy

  1. gayathri says:

    I was only 8yrs then, was with my aunty who was 21yrs then and we were the last two to jump on the last ferry moments before the historical collapse. Can still recall very moment of it.

  2. On that fatefull day…I was with my family lining up to board the ferry too. There were many people. We were way back in line, very far away from the ferry….the line didn’t move at all. We lost patience waiting. On the way home, we saw a Nuri helicopter landing in a school field. When we got back home in Bukit Mertajam, only then did we learn of the trajedy from the TV news. I was in standard 6 then.

  3. hye guys..I’m Esya from firdaus maju production. Now i research about this tragedy and i really need the information about feri disaster. If u dont mind, can u share the story and i want to know more about that. Actually, i responsiblity to do one hard documentary about the tragedy and my team still research and find person involve in tragedy.. TQ  

  4. I was one of those who survived that fateful tragedy. I was on my way from Kulim to USM on that day. The bus journey from Kulim to Butterworth was normally straight forward but on that day because of the St Anne’s festival in Bukit Mertajam and the Goddess of Mercy’s celebration on Penang island the bus took a different route and of course much longer to reach the bus terminal in Butterworth.The whole place was jam packed with people. When I climbed up the stairs to go towards the waiting area for pedestrians wanting to board the ferry, the place was very very crowded. Once I got myself into the queue I knew that it would take a very long time before I could board the ferry to Penang. But I could not back track! There was no room for anybody to have an inch of extra space. Everybody was just jam packed. One could only follow the wave of the whole crowd in our movement. When the gate into the ferry opened, the human wave moved forward. When the gate was closed, the wave would move a little more forward before it halted. Each time when that happened I could feel my body was momentarily crushed forward before the wave moved me backward for a more comfortable position.It took me about 45 minutes to go through the short stretch to reach the payment area;entrances controlled by coins. I inserted my coins into the coin slot but the metals that guard the entrance were jammed. I had to climb over the entrance. A guy was standing in front of me holding in his hands a lot of coins. “I just put in 20 sen and came up so many coins!”. He was elated. There were children crying because the situation. Then I heard,”Help! Help! My mother has fainted” Before I could see what was happening, a body belonging to a senior Indian lady was pushed and held high above the human heads before she was helped to move beyond and out of the fenced up area.A few minutes later, I heard a loud explosion “Pang!” followed by screaming of the pedestrians. My body began to drop. I thought it was time for me to die so I cried out,”Father! Unto you I commit my spirit.” And the next thing I knew I had already landed on the ground. More screaming and crying were heard. People went on a stempede. To avoid being stepped, I quickly grabbed a Chinese girl with my left hand and a Malay boy with my right hand. My grabbed them close to my body for protection. Then I released the two of them when I knew it was ok. I thought I had broken my legs. Thank God they were ok. I was just covered with dirt and dust. The bunch of “mata kucing” I had brought along had been completely crushed. I threw them away on my way out. I was actually still standing on the platform that had collapsed. I could see many people under the planks still trapped in their cars but motionless. I just walked out of that place when I saw that many people had come in to help the victims. On my way out I saw many people sitting by the road side, bleeding. I began to hear the sound of sirens coming for the rescue. I realized that I was very fortunate to have come out of this unscathed. I realized that it was not the time yet for me to go. I walked straight to the Methodist Church nearby to thank my God and to seek assistance there.Joseph Chang Por Hong

  5. Zarida says:

    I nearly become one of the victim if I was there during that time. I was informed the very last minutes that our class in Penang is diverted to the week after. I continued my work and after an hour my sister called my office and I answered, I was shocked that the jetty has collapsed…. May their souls rest in Peace…

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