SINGAPORE: It was just seconds after full-time national serviceman (NSF) Kok Yuen Chin had fallen into a pump well at Tuas View Fire Station that a Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officer told a colleague to go quickly into the well after him, a court heard on Wednesday (Jun 19).
Staff Sergeant (SSG) Ng Meng Kiat, also known as Chris, was recounting the events of May 13, the day Corporal Kok died after drowning in the 12m-deep well, in a celebration of his Operationally Ready Date that had gone wrong.
SSG Ng was the officer who eventually found Corporal Kok's body at the bottom of the well after the 22-year-old was pushed in by Staff Sergeant Muhammad Nur Fatwa Mahmood, a move that SSG Ng said took him by surprise.
In videos shown to the court, the officer was depicted running ahead of men carrying CPL Kok to the pump well so he could open a gate. He told the court he had thought they were "playing a prank" on CPL Kok.
After CPL Kok removed his valuables and shirt and sat at the edge of the well, he was suddenly pushed in by Fatwa and fell into the water with an audible splash.
"GO DOWN, GO DOWN, GO DOWN"
Three to four seconds later, SSG Ng was heard saying in Mandarin: "Faster go down."
He had said these words to Corporal Sok Leng, a swimming instructor whom he had told earlier to "stand by" in case "anything" happened.
"It was instinct," said SSG Ng when Deputy Public Prosecutor Kumaresan Gohulabalan asked him why he had said "faster go down" to CPL Sok Leng.
READ: Fellow SCDF NSF says Kok Yuen Chin gave a "scared smile", resisted being taken to well for "kolam" ritual
In the video footage, SSG Ng could also be heard saying: "Go down, go down, go down."
"I just wanted to ask (Sok Leng) to faster go down, as soon as possible," said SSG Ng, who spoke slowly and swallowed at times as he recounted the incident.
CPL Kok never resurfaced. A few officers went down into the water after him, including CPL Sok Leng. SSG Ng said that after CPL Sok Leng resurfaced and said he could not find CPL Kok, SSG Ng told another officer to try to suck the water out of the well.
The officers used lifebuoys in their rescue attempts, as well as a ceiling hook usually used to puncture the ceiling in a fire or to drag items out of the water.
They also placed a ladder in the pump well so that rescuers could hold on to it and go deeper into the water, said SSG Ng.
READ: SCDF officer who pushed NSF Kok Yuen Chin into well describes incident he has guilt, nightmares over
SSG Ng joined the rescue efforts, entering the water with Fatwa while wearing a breathing apparatus usually used for firefighting, as well as a mask.
But the buoyancy of the breathing apparatus pushed him up and he was unable to go deeper into the water he described as "very dark and black".
FATWA STEPPED ON HIM SO HE COULD GO DEEPER INTO THE WELL
"I spoke to Fatwa and he said he would use his body weight to push me down further, to step on me," said SSG Ng. "He stepped on me and I could go further down into the well."
In this manner, he was able to reach a platform at the 6m mark of the well, go into a 1m-wide square hole there and search the bottom of the well.
By this time, some water had been drawn out of the well, but there was still pressure in his ears from the depth.
He touched the bottom with his feet and felt around until he felt "something like clothing".
With one hand on the ladder, SSG Ng extended his other hand and reached out for CPL Kok, feeling first for his head.
He then pulled him closer by his chin and ascended the ladder, holding him close to his body.
The men extracted CPL Kok from the well using ropes they lowered to SSG Ng, 36 minutes after he was pushed in.
READ: "Committed to eradicating ragging within our ranks" - SCDF implements follow-up actions after NSF death
CPL Kok died later in hospital, with drowning established as the cause of death.
SSG Ng was testifying in the trial against rota commander and deputy commander Lieutenant Kenneth Chong Chee Boon, 38, and First Senior Warrant Officer Nazhan Mohamed Nazi, 41.
They are accused of causing grievous hurt to CPL Kok by not stopping the servicemen at the fire station from making CPL Kok enter the pump well.
SSG Ng told the court that he had himself been subjected to the "kolam" ritual of entering the pump well - more than 10 years ago, at Sengkang Fire Station.
"It's a welcoming session for firemen," said SSG Ng when asked why he entered the well as part of the ritual. "I voluntarily went in ... because I was new to the force and I wanted to make friends with my new colleagues in the fire station."
He said that when a person went into the well, it meant that he was "welcome as a fireman".
The trial was set to continue on Wednesday afternoon through Friday.