Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Night The Flyer Went To Sleep

On the eve of Christmas day 2008, the Singapore Flyer was spinning headlines in newspapers all over the world because, ironically, it stopped spinning.

On 23 Dec 08, a fire broke out in the control room of the World's largest Ferris wheel, trapping 173 people hundreds of feet above the ground for hours and forcing rescuers to lower 11 passengers to safety by rope. The affected passengers were more than disturbed during the 6-hour ordeal with two of them hospitalized with minor ailments.

Since the incident, the wheel was shut down pending probe. This has been the third time the the Singapore Flyer had stalled since it took its first spin on 11 Feb 08. The earlier incidents were not so disruptive.

Although I was not in Singapore when the incident took place, I was quite informed via various media. Accidents do happen in Singapore but why is this one attracting more attention? I suppose the Flyer has its significance.

When I was a kid, similar structures were known as Ferris Wheels. They were huge to me simply because I was tiny. Today, it would make you sound so yesterday if you refer the Singapore Flyer as the 'big Ferris Wheel'. The maker and operator of the Flyer prefer it to be known as an 'observation wheel' and they will also be proud to remind you that the wheels are much larger nowadays.

The first Ferris Wheel actually date back more than 100 years ago. In 1893, George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. was tasked to come up with a monument for the World's Columbian Exposition to be held in Chicago. He was challenged to surpass the Eiffel Tower which was the monumental structure for the Paris Exposition four years earlier.

Ferris came up with a grandiose idea of a wheel from which visitors could view the entire exhibition. He was quickly dismissed. Ferris persisted and came back with a few investors to to cover the US$400,000 construction cost.

The wheel was an instant success and similar wheels were since named Ferris Wheels.

The first Ferris Wheel in Chicago was 80m. 115 years later, the Singapore Flyer, the tallest in the world, is 165m.

The wheels just got taller over the years. When the London Eye was completed in 1999, it remained the tallest until the Star of Nanchang came up in 2006, standing tall at 160m. Two years later, it became history when the Singapore Flyer at 165m was born.

The race is still on-going.

Two giant wheels are currently being constructed. The Great Berlin Wheel (above) is expected to be ready by end 2009. Standing tall at 185m, the new wheel will be the tallest in the world and sending the Singapore Flyer into history.

However, if the Beijing Great Wheel (above) is completed first the Great Berlin Wheel will never see the daylight on the 'Who Is the Tallest' chart. The Beijing's giant observation wheel will be at a staggering 208m and todate, nothing taller has been planned.

These monstrous wheels, though built for fun, are serious status symbols and some have almost replaced skyscrapers as icons. Singapore, in this instance, is definitely proud of the Flyer as one of the national icons. The recent incident has inevitably dampened some spirit but it does not change the fact that it is still the tallest observation wheel in the world now.

In Feb this year, the Singapore Flyer would have spun for a year. Coincidentally, 14 Feb is also the 'Ferris Wheel Day' as it is so chosen to commemorate the birthday of the creator, George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr.

Now you know 14 Feb is not just for Valentine's Day.

We will see the Singapore Flyer, still being the tallest in the world, celebrating its first birthday as well as the Ferris Wheel Day. After that, its shortlived status wil be handed over to either the Great Berlin Wheel or the Beijing Great Wheel.

I have not taken a ride on the Flyer yet although the orangutans have. The recent incident would not have affected my decision to take a ride on it. Perhaps I should go on board before it is no longer the tallest in the world.

Anyone wants to come along?


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