On the 15th of March 1986, at 11.26 am, the six-storey Hotel New World, a 15 years old, one-star budget hotel situated at the junction of Serangoon Road and Owen Road collapsed. The operational readiness of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) was put to test in this hour of national crisis. The SAF responded immediately to the distress call from civil authorities. The then Chief Medical Officer, BG (Retd)(Dr) Lim Meng Kin, was appointed to command the medical rescue operation.
Within an hour of the collapse, SAF ambulances had arrived at the scene. An emergency rescue post was set up across the street. Soldiers worked alongside members of the Singapore Civil Defence Force to remove the rubble. RSAF UH-1H helicopters were on standby at the nearby Farrer Park football field. They later evacuated rescued victims to the Singapore General Hospital.
The rescue operations finally ceased when no more survivors could be found. During the seven-day rescue effort, SAF doctors and medics displayed mental and psychological resilience. They were saddened by those that were dead on arrival at the medical post, yet a sense of relief was felt that 17 of 50 trapped victims were rescued. Many valuable lessons were learned, in the hope that such a tragedy would not repeat itself again.