SINGAPORE - Five fire station officers used breathing apparatus, ropes and a life buoy in a vain attempt to rescue a full-time national serviceman (NSF) after he was pushed into a 12m-deep well during a "ragging" ritual, a court heard on Tuesday (June 11).
Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officer Muhammad Nur Fatwa Mahmood, 34, gave his account of events at Tuas View Fire Station during the second day of the trial of two commanders who were on duty the night that Corporal Kok Yuen Chin drowned.
"He didn't resurface. We tried to search for him, we dived in and dived out, but there was no sign of him," said Nur Fatwa, who had originally pushed Cpl Kok into the well during celebrations to mark his impending operationally ready date (ORD).
When Cpl Kok - a Malaysian national and Singapore permanent resident - did not resurface, his colleagues drained the well but it took 36 minutes before they were able to pull him out.
In a video of the incident shown in court, the group of servicemen crowded around the well are seen removing their boots.
Nur Fatwa said this was the moment when they started to panic because they realised that something was wrong.
He and four other officers took turns to try locating Cpl Kok, and it was only after the water on the well had been drained to Nur Fatwa's chest level did they realise that there was a smaller hole at the bottom.
"I requested breathing apparatus because the water pressure made it difficult, it caused discomfort to my ears and breathing," said Nur Fatwa.
He and and Staff Sergeant Ng Meng Kiat used breathing apparatus to dive into hole where the latter found Cpl Kok, pulled him to the surface and out of the well.
The two officers on trial - Kenneth Chong Chee Boon, 38, a lieutenant, and Nazhan Mohamed Nazi, 40, a first senior warrant officer - were commander and deputy commander, respectively, of the station that night on May 13 last year.
They were each charged in July last year with aiding a rash act that caused grievous hurt by illegal omission. The duo had allegedly failed to prevent a group of servicemen from pressuring 22-year-old Cpl Kok to enter the pump well, thereby endangering his life. They are contesting the charges.
In October last year, Nur Fatwa was sentenced to one year and four weeks' jail for causing death by rash act.
The staff sergeant pleaded guilty to pushing Cpl Kok into the pump well and also abetting the obstruction of justice when he told another officer to delete a video recording of the incident.
On Tuesday, Nur Fatwa, who is currently serving his time on the Home Detention Scheme, told the court that he had mentioned the "kolam" ritual, which involved getting into the fire station's pump well, to Cpl Kok when they were taking attendance the morning of May 13.
"I recalled that someone told me that it was Kok's last day of duty. So I joked around with him, I said 'Today, kolam'."
He added: "The kolam (ritual) is to celebrate an occasion, like a departure."
Nur Fatwa also said he remembered Cpl Kok smiling in response but could not recall whether he replied.
Later that night, when most of the officers on duty - including Chong and Nazhan - had gathered in the control room for a cake-cutting ceremony in honour of Cpl Kok, Nur Fatwa said he brought up the kolam again.
However, he did not remember whether Chong or Nazhan had heard this or responded to it.
A few officers then carried Cpl Kok towards the pump well across the yard and put him on the ground.
He said at one point when they were gathered at the pump well, he remembered Nazhan pointing to the edge of the well.
Said Nur Fatwa: "I recall he said that if you cannot swim, you should jump nearer the edge of the kolam."
He also said shortly after making the comment, Nazhan walked away from the group towards the station's admin room.
The trial will resume in the afternoon, when Nur Fatwa is expected to be cross-examined by Chong's and Nazhan's lawyers.