Toddler's drowning a 'tragic misadventure'

The death of a three-year-old boy who was found face down in a learners' pool at Tampines Swimming Complex was a "tragic misadventure", a coroner said yesterday.

The boy and his eight-year-old brother had gone to the pool on Jan 8 with their father - a lifeguard and private swimming coach who was going to give lessons.

The two boys are believed to have gone to a metre-deep learners' pool without their father when the younger sibling - who was about the same height as the pool - got into difficulties.

Just after 6.30pm that day, Mr Joseph Tongson - who had taken his family swimming there - noticed the younger boy lying motionless face down in the water.

The 39-year-old pulled the child out and placed him at the side of the pool before shouting for help.

Two lifeguards and a passer-by came to help.

Mr Tongson and the boy's 49-year-old father were among those who performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on him.

Paramedics arrived and continued resuscitation until the boy was taken to Changi General Hospital.

He was transferred to KK Women's and Children's Hospital for further specialised care but died at 1.30am the next day from lack of oxygen to the brain due to water immersion.

Yesterday, State Coroner Marvin Bay said there was no basis to suspect foul play. He noted in his findings that CPR was administered in a timely manner by the lifeguards.

"Prompt administration of CPR had saved many individuals from drowning, although not in this case, possibly due to a long time lapse between his initial submersion and his discovery," he said.

In the wake of several drownings of young children in public facilities, Coroner Bay said several preventive principles have become clear and should be observed to prevent similar accidents.

An adult should actively watch children at all times while they are in a pool, paying constant attention and free from distractions, like talking on the phone, reading or socialising. The adult should keep swimming children within arm's reach and in sight at all times.

"Drowning has been aptly dubbed to be a 'silent killer', and children may slip into the water silently without any splashing or screaming," Mr Bay said.

Children who cannot swim or are weak swimmers should wear personal flotation devices when they are just playing near a pool. A child may enter or fall into the deep end of the pool unnoticed.

Agencies like the Singapore Civil Defence Force, Singapore Sports Council and Singapore Life Saving Society have been looking into the area of drowning prevention.

Sport SG is looking into the deployment of an early drowning warning system to enable lifeguards to conduct more expeditious rescues.

Coroner Bay added: "This court would, of course, stand ready to help in these efforts, by providing data or other appropriate resources to assist concerned agencies."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2016, with the headline 'Toddler's drowning a 'tragic misadventure''. Print Edition | Subscribe