Woman's drowning at hotel pool after drinks an 'unfortunate misadventure', says coroner

Cosmetics saleswoman Fan Xiaojing, 23, and Ms Qi Yue arrived in Singapore on May 4 and shared a room at Novotel Singapore Clarke Quay on River Valley Road.
Cosmetics saleswoman Fan Xiaojing, 23, and Ms Qi Yue arrived in Singapore on May 4 and shared a room at Novotel Singapore Clarke Quay on River Valley Road.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A Chinese national's first visit to Singapore with her childhood friend ended tragically when she died a day after near-drowning in a hotel pool after consuming alcohol, a coroner's court heard.

Cosmetics saleswoman Fan Xiaojing, 23, and Ms Qi Yue arrived in Singapore on May 4 and shared a room at Novotel Singapore Clarke Quay on River Valley Road.

The next day, they had dinner at Song Fa Bak Kut Teh nearby when they befriended four people, including Mr Tsai Tsung Ju, who worked as a fitness instructor at a local gym.

After dinner, Mr Tsai, a Taiwanese, followed the two women to the hotel where they obtained two bottles of whisky. They consumed one bottle of whisky and beer at VLV bar at Clarke Quay.

At about 12.20am, the trio went back to the hotel where they continued to chat and drink whisky in the room.

Shortly after, Mr Tsai and Ms Fan left to ask for ice and an extra tall glass for drinking at the reception on level 7. They also asked about the swimming pool and were told that it was only open from 6am to 10pm.

After Mr Tsai and Ms Fan had finished a bottle of whisky, she left for the swimming pool without telling Mr Tsai. Her friend had fallen asleep.

When Mr Tsai found her sitting by the side of the pool with her legs at the shallow end, he sat beside her.

A hotel staff member went up to them at 3.20am and told them that the pool was closed and out of bounds. Despite this, Ms Fan entered the pool alone. She walked around the shallow parts of the pool. Mr Tsai joined her. She then began going towards the deeper end, holding onto the sides of the pool for support.

She asked if he could swim, and he said he was not a good swimmer.

At this time, they had reached the middle section of the pool, which was 2.5m to 3.35m deep.

They held onto the pool walls and realised that they could not touch the bottom with their feet. Ms Fan started to swim away from the wall in an apparent bid to reach the opposite end of the pool. There was a floating red ball some 7m from the wall.

Mr Tsai observed that Ms Fan appeared to have her own style of breaststroke and did not raise her head for air, while swimming for some four to five seconds.

As he swam towards her, he saw that she made erratic hand movements, as if she were trying to keep afloat. He tried to pull and push her towards the wall but failed. She grabbed Mr Tsai and pulled him underwater in a desperate bid to maintain buoyancy.

Mr Tsai then swam back towards the wall, left the water and approached two cleaners for help.

One decided to follow him to the pool where Mr Tsai pointed to Ms Fan who was lying motionless face down at the bottom of the pool.

The cleaner panicked and sought help from his colleague, who jumped in but could not reach Ms Fan despite repeated attempts as it was too deep.

Subsequently, the cleaners managed to pull Ms Fan up to the surface and out of the water. Mr Tsai then performed cardio-pulmonary resuscitation on Ms Fan, and emergency services and the police were called. She was taken to Singapore General Hospital where she died the following morning.

In his findings on Tuesday (Oct 17), Coroner Marvin Bay said the accounts of Mr Tsai, Ms Qi, along with closed circuit television footage, showed Ms Fan to be demonstrably inebriated, walking with a haphazard and uncoordinated gait, and occasionally propping herself against Mr Tsai for support.

He found her death to be an "unfortunate misadventure". The very sad circumstances of her demise, he said, should underscore the enormous risk taken by pool users, who consume alcohol before taking to the water.

He said deaths by accidental drowning, particularly in a hotel pool, are inherently preventable.

"Effective prevention will require careful thought into pool design, safety features and resuscitation equipment, as well as a continual commitment of constant vigilance in monitoring pool users," he added.