SINGAPORE: A 14-year-old boy who drowned in the sea off Changi Beach did not know how to swim and panicked when the water level rose and he could no longer feel the sea bed, a coroner’s court heard on Thursday (Mar 18).
Putera Muhammad Indra Shazrine Suzaini was swept out by strong currents with a friend who could not swim. While his friend was rescued by a bystander, Putera’s body was retrieved by Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) divers about two hours later.
State Coroner Kamala Ponnampalam ruled his death “truly an unfortunate misadventure” and pointed out the dangers of swimming in the sea, especially for beachgoers who cannot swim.
The sea “may appear to be deceptively calm” but holds dangers, and non-swimmers should remain in very shallow waters, she said.
READ: Currents, sea beds and tide timings: Things to look out for when swimming at Singapore’s beaches
The court heard that Putera went to Changi Beach Park at around noon on Aug 22 last year with seven friends to play football, sepak takraw, build sandcastles and have a picnic.
The investigating officer on the case told the court that the group usually gathered to play sepak takraw, but it was only on that day that they made plans to go to Changi Beach.
Past 3pm, Putera and two of his friends decided to go into the sea to wash the sand off their bodies. Initially, they were about 5m away from the shoreline, with the water at their waists.
CURRENT GREW STRONGER, WATER LEVEL ROSE
As the current got stronger, the trio were pulled further out into the sea, and the water rose to their heads at one point. The boys began to panic and tried to swim back, but Putera and another friend were unable to swim and were swept away.
The boy who managed to swim to shore heard one of his friends shouting: “I cannot feel the ground, help, help!”
The boy who got to the shore sought help for his friends. A fisherman nearby heard the cries and saw Putera and his friend struggling in the water. He immediately swam out to them, heading first to Putera as he was further away.
He tried to grab him by the shoulders but could not, and had to swim back after about a minute to rest as he was exhausted and the current was too strong.
Another bystander managed to rescue the other struggling boy, and he was taken to hospital. This boy later said Putera had been waving his arms and trying to grab hold of him while he was trying to stay afloat himself. Subsequently, he recalled only being pulled to shore and taken to hospital.
The police were alerted at about 3.30pm, and SCDF shortly after. SCDF’s Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (DART) arrived soon after and began searching for Putera, and found his body 15m away from the shoreline at about 5.30pm.
An autopsy certified the cause of death as drowning.
According to tidal reports read out in court, the tide at the time of the incident was about 2.8m and receding out to sea, rising to 4m at 4pm. There were light to moderate showers for about an hour until 3.20pm, with light rain, thunder and lightning after this.
HE COULD NOT SWIM BUT HAD GONE TO POOL BEFORE
Investigations revealed that Putera’s friends and mother knew he could not swim, but Putera would go to the swimming pool at times to play with water.
Putera’s mother said she was aware that her son intended to go to Changi Beach with his friends that day. He had called her earlier, but she missed his call, and returned it later to learn that he was going to the beach with his usual group of friends.
She said her son had never learnt to swim, but often went to the swimming pool to play in the water.
The coroner said children and non-swimmers can fail to appreciate how strong currents are in the sea. It is quite unlike the bottom of a swimming pool that deepens gradually, she said.
“If a beachgoer is unable to swim, it’s best they remain in very shallow waters,” said the coroner.
“It is important that our children and youth are educated both at home and at school about water safety and the dangers of playing, swimming, or even simply walking in the waters when they are at the beach,” she added.
“The inability to swim adds to the risk of drowning. Parents may want to enrol their children in a swimming program to learn some basic swimming to reduce those risks.”
She conveyed her condolences to Putera’s family for their sad loss.