“Twenty-four people were hurt – several seriously – when two bun towers collapsed on Cheung Chau early this morning,” ran the story in the South China Morning Post on May 10, 1978. The number of injured was later reported as 100.
The incident occurred as the annual Ta Chiu (or Bun) Festival, held to appease the spirits of those islanders who had died of the plague or at the hands of pirates in times past, reached its midnight climax, with 200 people, mostly teenagers, scrambling up the 60-foot bamboo towers to pick buns – said to bring good luck and health – from the top.
“The crowd of about 2,000 scattered in panic as the towers began to crumble amid screams of horror,” the story continued. “The third tower remained standing.”
Two helicopters were dispatched to Cheung Chau to fly the seriously injured to Queen Elizabeth Hospital, in Kowloon.
In the following day’s newspaper, a reporter who was at the scene wrote: “Midnight was gonged, young men swarmed up three 60ft bun towers – and moments later Cheung Chau’s annual bun festival climaxed in chaos and injury.
“I was among thousands of spectators who reeled in disbelief as the outer bamboo tower – covered in good luck iced buns – swayed and slowly, gracefully fell inwards. Looking like a harmless pink and white candy stick, it nudged the middle tower, seemingly dragged across the rope stays and brought it down. This time more quickly. Figures silhouetted against the flood-light began dropping to the ground while others were obviously trapped inside the bamboo frame.
“By 1 am the shaken crowd had all but dispersed and villagers sat in open doorways discussing the ill omen of the fallen towers for Cheung Chau. Hundreds of buns still clung to the fallen towers. The pennants at their peak – usually fiercely coveted – were intact and forgotten.”
On March 3, 1979, the Post reported that the New Territories Administration had cancelled the annual midnight bun scramble scheduled for that year’s event. It was a hiatus that would last 27 years.