Newsman whose skull was cracked in 8 places in rail mishap

PETALING JAYA : Journalist David Chelliah has one of the most terrifying stories to tell: Nineteen years ago, on his way to an assignment, a 14kg monorail wheel, the weight of a full cooking gas cylinder, struck his head from some 15m above.

The safety wheel from the train, making a test run, cracked his skull in eight places.

The ghastly incident left him with fractures and other physical injuries which affected his ability to work and live a normal life.

Journalist David Chelliah made headlines when a monorail wheel fell from 15m above, an incident the government deemed was ‘sabotage’. (David Chelliah pic)

He was the first victim of the failure of Kuala Lumpur monorail’s safety measures ahead of the service making its debut.

Chelliah, then aged 40, was wracked with depression as he struggled without the money nor the mental strength to engage in a David versus Goliath duel with three big companies to seek justice.

The newsman sued Monorail Malaysia Technology Sdn Bhd, KL Monorail Systems and the director-general of railways for RM5 million.

The suit dragged on for over 10 years before the court found them guilty of negligence and the parties agreed to a settlement in 2012.

Chelliah has recovered from the injuries and is now a sub-editor with national news agency Bernama.

David Chelliah says human lives become meaningless when public safety is compromised. (David Chelliah pic)

The events of Aug 16, 2002, still haunt Chelliah and he said the memories were clear when he was confronted with Monday’s collision of two LRT trains in Kuala Lumpur.

“Human lives become meaningless when public safety is compromised,” said Chelliah. “The safety of the people must be paramount in large-scale projects.”

He said the safety protocols of Klang Valley’s rail services needed an overhaul in view of suspected systemic or organisational failure as the root cause.

Chelliah said he and his family sympathised with the injured, “who have been traumatised by the mishap during the stressful Covid-19 pandemic”.

“My wife, son and daughter were emotionally upset as they followed news of the incident, more so because it reminded them of my harrowing experience,” he said.

He recalled that a monorail train, on a trial run, passed overhead as he was crossing Jalan Sultan Ismail at about 3pm.

As he arrived at the divider below the elevated track to cross over to the Shangri-La Hotel, a safety wheel of the train fell on his head from 15m above.

The safety wheel is a back-up wheel for the guidance wheel, which guides the train along the elevated track.

The incident was played out at breakneck pace in the media and prompted soul-searching at the highest levels of officialdom.In October 2002, then transport minister Dr Ling Liong Sik said extensive tests ruled the case of the wheel striking David Chelliah as sabotage and not design failure.

In October 2002, then transport minister Dr Ling Liong Sik said extensive tests ruled the case of the wheel striking David Chelliah as sabotage and not design failure.

In October, then transport minister Dr Ling Liong Sik said extensive tests showed it was sabotage and not design failure.

Five months later, Chelliah sued for negligence on the grounds that his medical and psychological suffering, including reduced visibility and speech impediment, had severely impaired his quality of life.

In 2009, the High Court ruled that the monorail operator was liable for the incident. The assessment of damages was settled out of court.

“At times, I felt I would not live to see the day when the legal battle was over,” said Chelliah, adding he neither received an apology nor did anyone show remorse over the incident.

He said he had not taken a ride on the LRT or monorail since the horrific incident because of the pain it caused him and his family.

“I pray that the victims of the LRT crash will recover quickly and hope the authorities will act promptly to restore faith in the rail services,” he said.

By : Frankie D’Cruz – FMT

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