Leather factory worker likely made 'futile bid' to save friend from toxic pit: State Coroner

SINGAPORE - A leather factory worker had likely made "a purposeful entry" into a pit of toxic wastewater, in a "valiant but futile" bid to save his friend, a coroner's inquiry found on Tuesday.

The worker, China national Zhai Hailei, 26, and his friend and colleague Yang Zhonghua, 37, were pulled out of the pit, unconscious, at Nam Heng Leather Dyeing on Boxing Day in 2013. They died in hospital nine days later.

On Tuesday, State Coroner Marvin Bay recorded their deaths as having arisen from "misadventures of an industrial nature".

He said Mr Zhai had likely entered the pit, also known as a sump, in search of his countryman, upon realising that Mr Yang could have fallen into the 3m pit while retrieving two plastic filters from directly above it.

Coroner Bay said Mr Yang would have needed to squat in a "precarious" position to carry out the task. He had likely fallen into the 2.5 m-deep wastewater, which contained chemical by-products from the leather tanning process, while disoriented by hydrogen sulphide fumes in the area - which would have "further compromised" his ability to call for help or struggle.

Mr Zhai, meanwhile, was known to have an impulsive and independent streak, the coroner said. A "faint flash" in camera footage seconds after Mr Zhai entered the sump area to search for his Mr Yang strongly suggested Mr Zhai had made a "desperate attempt" to save his colleague.

Both men were experienced workers familiar with all aspects of their job. They were known to spend time together on off days and have drinks together.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.