Singapore

He'll rescue anyone in need

His was the ultimate sacrifice. Heng Yeow Pheow saved fellow workers after the massive cave-in at the Circle Line worksite, known as the Nicoll Highway collapse in 2004. His body was not found

The body of a hero lies deep beneath the Nicoll Highway Station.

It's the body of Mr Heng Yeow Pheow - dubbed Hero Heng by The New Paper - the selfless Singaporean foreman who died so that his fellow workers could live.

On April 20, 2004, tunnelling work to expand the MRT railway system led to a massive cave-in at the Circle Line worksite in what became known as the Nicoll Highway collapse, one of the worst construction accidents in Singapore's history.

Besides Mr Heng, those who died were 44-year-old Malaysian crane operator Vadivil Nadeson, 37-year-old construction worker Liu Rong Quan from China, and Singaporean site inspector John Tan, 56.

TNP was instrumental in uncovering the human dimension amid the physical devastation.

PERSISTENT

It was only after our persistent reporters tracked down a survivor in a dormitory in Kallang that details of Mr Heng's noble act at the time of the disaster came to light.

Mr Heng, then 40, was employed by Kori Construction, a sub-contractor for the Circle Line project.

He could've made a run for it when the temporary supporting walls at their worksite 30m underground started toppling around them.

But he stayed behind to make sure his eight trapped co-workers - who were mostly Thais - escaped to safety ahead of him.

Unfortunately, Mr Heng didn't make it out in time. Even more tragically, his body was the only one that was never recovered.

Still, a funeral ceremony was held for Mr Heng and hundreds of people turned up to pay their last respects.

He left behind his widow, Madam Poa Beng Hong, now 46, and two children, Daniel and Joann, now 20 and 18 respectively.

The Medal of Valour, the nation's top honour usually given to uniformed services personnel who demonstrate extreme courage in performing their duties, was awarded to him posthumously.

It now hangs on the living room wall of their four-room flat in Tampines, which is also adorned with many framed family photos.

PICTURES

Our interview conducted in April 2013 at their home, almost a decade after the tragedy, was punctuated with sobbing from both mother and daughter, while Daniel choked back tears.

Madam Poa told TNP in Mandarin: "Our walls are filled with pictures of him and us, reminding me that he is always with us.

"Some people would choose to stow away all these things, but I choose not to do that because I can't just leave the situation as it is.

"I have not seen his body (so) it's not so easy to just give up on it."

She added tearfully: "In this case, it's still a mystery. His wallet isn't there. There is nothing left of him. He is left inside... It's hard to admit that he is no longer here. It's impossible to accept."

Even Mr Heng's "hero" status is cold comfort to her.

"So what if he has this nickname? It doesn't mean anything to us... It's like having a four-legged table and you suddenly lose one leg..."

In October 2007, in a High Court hearing, the family was awarded $380,000 in compensation and $30,000 in legal costs by the three construction firms involved.

More than $630,000 was also raised through public donations.

Madam Poa has received about $2,500 monthly from a trust fund that former Tampines GRC MP Irene Ng had set up for her using public donations.

The sum rose to $3,600 last year and $4,500 this year, taking into account the higher education expenses of her children. The trust fund will run out in 2019.