Plunging into the waters off East Coast Park not once, not twice, but thrice, housewife Silvia Hajas managed to pull three schoolboys to shore before it was too late.
But the triathlete did not manage to reach one of the boys, who was struggling in the waters around Bedok Jetty and later disappeared at around noon yesterday.
The body of the 12-year-old boy, Muhammad Suhaimi Sabastian, was found three hours later, at 3.33pm, by the Singapore Civil Defence Force's (SCDF) Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team. The other three boys were seen leaving with their families.
Suhaimi, a student of Jurongville Secondary School, headed with six friends to East Coast Park after taking a school exam yesterday morning, said Jurongville vice-principal Elaine Tan in a statement.
"School leaders, staff and counsellors are currently providing emotional support and assistance to the family in their time of grief. We are also supporting and counselling affected students and staff," said Ms Tan, adding that the school was deeply saddened by the death.
How the tragedy unfolded
12.16pm: Housewife Silvia Hajas is at East Coast Park and takes a panoramic photograph of the view with her mobile phone. The photo captures seven boys swimming in the waters.
Around 12.20pm: She hears the boys yelling for help. Three boys swim to shore on their own. She jumps into the water and is able to retrieve two boys.
A passer-by in his 50s finds a rescue float. Using the float, he leaps into the water with Ms Hajas to seek out the two remaining boys. Suhaimi cannot be seen above the water.
12.24pm: Ms Hajas and the man manage to rescue a third boy with the float, but cannot find Suhaimi. The police are notified.
Around 12.40pm: Police and the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) arrive and carry out a search. Later, a cordon is set up around the area.
3.33pm: Suhaimi's body is found by officers from SCDF's Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team in the waters off Bedok Jetty.
The Straits Times understands that Suhaimi is the youngest of three sons. The family could not be reached for comment.
Police are investigating the unnatural death, its spokesman said.
The SCDF said it was alerted to a report of a missing person at around 12.25pm.
Ms Hajas, 47, told The Straits Times yesterday that she arrived at the stretch of beach at East Coast Park's Area E at noon with her eight-year-old daughter.
She snapped a panoramic picture of the sea view from the breakwater that showed seven boys, including Suhaimi, swimming about 50m away from the shoreline.
At first, Ms Hajas thought the boys were simply playing as they were making noises. But when she heard more than one of them cry out for help, she leapt into the water.
Three of the boys swam back on their own, while the others looked like they were having trouble staying afloat, said Ms Hajas, an Australian national who has lived here for six years on a dependant's pass.
"I swam out to the closest boy and helped him to get out. And then I turned around and went out again to pull in another," she recalled, adding that she could not touch the ground where the boys were at. She is 1.7m tall. "I was very tired at this stage - the sea was very choppy and the waves were strong."
A couple arrived at the scene and found a rescue float nearby. The man, who was able to swim, dived into the water with Ms Hajas while his female partner called the police.
Said Ms Hajas: "By that time, the fourth boy was no longer above water. We swam and put the life buoy on one boy and pulled him out."
The police confirmed receiving a call about a missing person in the waters off Bedok Jetty at 12.24pm, roughly 10 minutes after Ms Hajas snapped her picture. By then, Ms Hajas had returned to shore with the third boy.
"We kept looking in the horizon and looking out for the fourth boy, but he never came back up and we never saw him again," she said.
Her daughter was being looked after by the three boys who had swum back to shore on their own.
Ms Hajas, who has taken part in triathlons, said the boys who got into trouble did not seem to know any swimming techniques and did not seem to be using their arms to tread water.
"They were just starting to play in the water when I first saw them and, five minutes later, they were much farther out, so I think the current pulled them out much farther than they expected," she said. "It took them completely by surprise."
• Additional reporting by Lee Min Kok