Boy's drowning at East Coast Park a tragic misadventure: Coroner

Muhammad Suhaimi Sabastian's body was found three hours after he and his three friends got into difficulties in the sea off East Coast Park.
Muhammad Suhaimi Sabastian's body was found three hours after he and his three friends got into difficulties in the sea off East Coast Park. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

SINGAPORE - The recent drowning of a 12-year-old boy at East Coast Park serves as a grim reminder for beach-goers to never underestimate the potential for harm when they enter the waters off a beach, a coroner said on Tuesday (Sept 26).

Muhammad Suhaimi Sabastian's demise on May 8 in the sea off East Coast Park was the 11th drowning of a child aged 12 years and below since January 2014, said State Coroner Marvin Bay.

Generally speaking, a child should not swim, or engage in water-play, alone without adult supervision, said the coroner, who found the drowning to be a "tragic misadventure''.

Even in a group, there should always be designated adult caregivers, providing close and constant supervision.

Persons intending to swim in open water should do so in lifeguard-monitored areas as lifeguards would do more than watch for drowning swimmers, he said.

"All beach-goers should learn water safety and water-survival skills, maintain a consistent awareness of their surroundings, their friends and themselves in order to have a safe day in the water,'' he said.

At an inquest into Suhaimi's death, the court heard that there was a "No Swimming'' sign near where Suhaimi, who had no prior instruction in swimming, and his friends had gone for a dip.

Notwithstanding this, there was a life buoy with instructional signage on water safety and proper use of the equipment found nearby.

Coroner Bay said the National Parks Board would be increasing the number of life buoy stations in the East Coast Park but did not elaborate.

The court heard that a party of eight, including Suhaimi, went to the East Coast Park to play on skate scooters at the Xtreme SkatePark after their exams that day.

They played on their skate scooters for a while before deciding to go and play in the sea as the weather was hot. All except one went in the waters.

The water level was at the seven boys' chest levels when they got in. When they ventured farther out from the shore, they suddenly felt the water level rise above their neck level.

When they could no longer feel their feet on the seabed, and were floating in the water, they panicked and started to make for the shore, shouting for help.

Housewife Silvia Claudia Hajas, a 47-year-old Australian living here on a dependant's pass, was with her daughter when she heard the boys' cries for help. She saw the group of boys struggling and waving their hands in the water.

Three of them were able to swim back while Suhaimi and three others remained struggling in the water.

After pulling two of the boys out of the water, Ms Hajas shouted for help to alert passers-by to join in her rescue efforts.

Mr Tan Kian Choon was strolling with his wife when he heard the shouting. When he saw what was happening, he grabbed a life buoy nearby, and entered the waters to help Ms Hajas.

By then, Suhaimi's friend, who was still in the water floating near him, had tried to hold onto Suhaimi's hand to prevent him from drifting away but to no avail.

He was saved but Suhaimi disappeared and was last seen to be more than 50m away from the shore.

About three hours later, civil defence officers found his body floating by a water breaker.Resuscitation was carried out but the boy was pronounced dead at 3.18pm.