'Mummy is home': Dead Singaporean kayaker's son pays touching tribute to mother

Mr Louis Pang took to Instagram on Aug 30 to post a tribute to his mother, Ms Josephine Puah Geok Tin, sharing details of events surrounding her fateful kayaking trip to Malaysia.
Mr Louis Pang took to Instagram on Aug 30 to post a tribute to his mother, Ms Josephine Puah Geok Tin, sharing details of events surrounding her fateful kayaking trip to Malaysia.PHOTO: LOUISSMILE_/INSTAGRAM

SINGAPORE - Before she left for the fateful kayaking trip to Malaysia, Ms Josephine Puah Geok Tin, 57, often asked her son to help her prepare for the expedition.

She would ask Mr Louis Pang, 24, to go running with her, borrowed his army outfield equipment and went shopping together for things she needed.

While he thought his mother's upcoming expedition would be slightly harder than the previous ones she had undertaken, he knew she could overcome any obstacle given her physical abilities.

Ms Puah, who set out on a kayaking trip in the waters off Mersing, Malaysia, with 14 other Singaporeans during the long National Day weekend, did not make it home alive.

Mr Pang took to Instagram on Friday (Aug 30) to post a tribute to his mother.

He shared that she checked into a resort with her team on Aug 7 and they set out on their expedition the next day.

Mr Pang recalled pictures posted on Facebook by Ms Puah's team members, who all looked happy and ready for the trip, when they moved off Endau Beach.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B1ycZYwnqbh/

As this was "mummy's 10000000000 expedition", he told himself, "she's gonna have fun and share with us all her experiences when she's back".

It was not to be.

Ms Puah and fellow kayaker Tan Eng Soon, 62, went missing at about 5.40pm on Aug 8 in the waters around Endau Islands, where conditions were reported to be rough.

Members of their group tried to search for them but had to give up after making no headway.

The group made a police report at the Rompin police station in Pahang at 10.30am on Aug 9.

Back in Singapore on that same day, Mr Pang was eating and chatting with friends when he received a call from Ms Puah's friend.

He was told that two kayakers in his mother's group had been reported missing in the news.


Ms Josephine Puah Geok Tin and Mr Tan Eng Soon posing in their kayak before they went missing. PHOTO: ONG SIEW LENG

Although he said his mind "went blank for a second", Mr Pang did not think his mother could be one of the missing kayakers, and told his mother's friend her "survival skills were off the chart".

She "can swim, can dive, can climb, can run marathon (better than my timing in her younger days)", wrote Mr Pang, adding that he was sure she would be able to return safely.

He immediately called his father, who was watching the National Day Parade at home as his elder son was performing in it.

His father told him he had just received a call from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) about his wife's disappearance.

Mr Pang recalled feeling lost as the family scrambled for scarce information on Ms Puah's disappearance.

 
 
 

The family spent a sleepless night waiting for arrangements and more information from the ministry.

"The next morning came, and I called MFA immediately to get a different confirmation. We rushed down to Penyabong Jetty with papa, my uncles and aunties," he said.

Mr Pang's elder brother stayed behind in Singapore as a point of contact back home in case of an emergency.

An extensive air and sea search effort for the pair went under way on Aug 9.

As the days passed, the air search was expanded to 400 nautical miles north of Pulau Seri Buat to north-west of Pulau Tioman.

The sea search on day two covered 150 nautical miles from Tanjung Resang, Mersing, to Kuala Rompin, Pahang.

Meanwhile, Ms Puah's family kept vigil in Malaysia and hoped for good news.

"Every night was a sleepless one and I find myself going to the beach area, every now and then, to pray and talk to mummy," Mr Pang said.

He also found the strength to step up and support his father, who he saw "getting weaker and weaker, emotionally and physically" with each passing day.

Father and son kept their hopes up for the safe return of Ms Puah, who Mr Pang described as a "fighter and a warrior".

They hoped she was either on an island trying to survive or stranded in her kayak trying to row for help.

A breakthrough in the search came on Aug 13, when the pair's kayak and belongings were found by local fishermen about 235km away from Penyabong Jetty.

When the family discovered the paddle was left in the kayak and the pair's water bottles were not found, the family took it as a positive sign the pair were surviving on their water rations.

However, on Aug 14, things took a negative turn.

Police officials asked to speak to Mr Pang and his father alone, and led them to a cold, quiet room.

Mr Pang wrote: "A thousand and one thoughts raced through my mind in an instant. I told myself it was either very good news or very bad news."

The air in the room was still and the atmosphere was suffocating, he recalled.

"I knew what was coming next," he said.

They were informed that a woman's body had been found in the Terengannu area, in the waters off Kuala Kemaman.

 
 
 

Mr Pang or his father needed to identify the body of the woman, which had been taken to Kemaman Hospital.

Media reports said the body was reported to be found about 40 nautical miles, or about 75km, from the search area.

The decision was made that Mr Pang would travel from Penyabong Jetty to Kemaman Hospital to identify the body while his father and some relatives returned home to Singapore.

He described the three-hour ride to the hospital as "one of the most excruciating journeys".

When he reached at 11pm and was led to the body, he instantly recognised it as that of his mother's.

Shivering and overcome with emotions, he recalled calling out to her.

"Mummy, come back home with me. It's time to come home, I'm here to bring you back," he said.

Before leaving Malaysia, Mr Pang said he completed a ritual with a priest at Kuala Kemaman beach, where her body was found.

Despite the pain of losing his mother, he took comfort in knowing she was found in a beautiful location, which was "absolutely stunning, peaceful and free".

"It had all the natural elements that she loves. The sun. The sand. The sea," he said.

Ms Puah's body was transported back to Singapore by undertakers on Aug 16, accompanied by her son and relatives.

Her daughter, Ms Ranie Pang, wrote on Instagram of her mother: "Josephine Puah Geok Tin (our dearest mummy) had lived her life to the fullest."


The wake of Ms Josephine Puah Geok Tin was held in the void deck of her home in Tampines Street 12 on Aug 17, 2019. ST PHOTO: SHINTARO TAY

The search for Mr Tan was unsuccessful and was officially terminated as of 9pm on Aug 18.

Officials said at the time that search and rescue operations would be reactivated if there were new leads.