SINGAPORE: A 22-year-old full-time national serviceman who drowned after a ragging incident at a fire station had been asked while seated at the pump well if he could swim, and answered that he could not.
Corporal (CPL) Kok Yuen Chin was sitting on the ledge of the pump well at Tuas View Fire Station on May 13 last year when he was purportedly asked if he could swim.
He replied that he could not swim, according to SCDF regular Al-Khudaifi Chang Zhi Hao.
He took the witness stand for the prosecution on Monday (Jun 10) at the opening of the trial of SCDF officers Nazhan Mohamed Nazi and Kenneth Chong Chee Boon, who each face a charge of abetting a rash act causing grievous hurt by illegal omission.
In response, co-accused Staff Sergeant (SSG) Muhammad Nur Fatwa Mahmood chimed in to say that Corporal Sok Leng - known by the officers to be a swimming instructor and a good swimmer - was there.
He told CPL Kok "don't worry", said Staff Sergeant Chang.
However, Fatwa later pushed CPL Kok into the well, which was filled with water, and the young man did not resurface.
The officers at the scene took turns diving into the well to look for CPL Kok, beginning with CPL Sok Leng, but could not find him, said SSG Chang.
It was only when the water was drained to about a depth of 3m when one of the officers found CPL Kok at the bottom of the well, and he was brought to the surface with a fire hose.
CPL KOK HAD TOLD WITNESS HE COULD NOT SWIM EVEN BEFORE THIS
SSG Chang, who paused at a point in his testimony as he had difficulty speaking, told the court that he had known that CPL Kok could not swim, even before the latter told the others at the pump well that fateful day.
"There was a time where I was having a talk with CPL Kok in the locker room, one to one, where we mentioned about going swimming by ourselves after duty, to which he said 'I cannot swim'," SSG Chang told the court.
"I replied I could help him, to train him to swim."
READ: Jail for SCDF officer who obstructed justice by deleting video of NSF Kok Yuen Chin being pushed in well
He said that CPL Kok had been carried from a room - where the officers had celebrated CPL Kok's impending Operationally Ready Date (ORD) - to the pump well that night.
At that time, he thought that CPL Kok would "eventually enter the pump well of his own accord or voluntarily". He also thought that if the group stopped him and asked him to stand up from the ledge, he might slip backwards into the well by accident, as it might be slippery.
"At that point of time I mentioned to CPL Sok Leng to pass me his handphone and wallet," said SSG Chang.
"I've known CPL Sok Leng to be a swimming instructor, so he knows how to swim properly, in which case to expect the unexpected I asked him to pass me his belongings just in case he needs to dive in and pull CPL Kok out of the pump well."
CPL KOK TOLD TWICE THAT DAY ABOUT HAVING TO GO INTO THE WELL
Before he was at the well, CPL Kok had been told twice that day about having to go into the well, or "kolam" in Malay, said SSG Chang, who had heard about one other prior kolam ragging incident that happened at the same fire station.
The first instance was in the morning that day, when Fatwa asked CPL Kok in Malay if he was ready to go into the kolam.
"CPL Kok replied: 'Tak boleh' and 'jangan gitu manaboleh gitu', meaning 'cannot' and 'don't like that la'," said SSG Chang.
The second time was in the watch room or control room at the fire station, where the officers presented a cake to CPL Kok and asked him to give an ORD speech, a final speech before they cut the cake, said the witness.
Fatwa mentioned "kolam" again, saying "well still means well", meaning that CPL Kok would still be going into the kolam.
CPL Kok replied "jokingly as well, saying 'tak boleh gitu', cannot like that la," said SSG Chang.
Before CPL Kok was pushed into the well, Lieutenant Kenneth Chong stuck his head out of a window on the second floor of a building near the pump well to tell the officers not to record any videos, said SSG Chang.
First Senior Warrant Officer Nazhan had walked alongside the group that carried Cpl Kok to the pump well, before going to an office to settle some matters about five to 10 minutes after "hanging out around" the well, SSG Chang said.
At no point did anyone say anything to stop the incident, he added.
"As time was passing by, no one mentioned to stop the whole incident. And no one had any sayings or mentioned the word stop whatsoever," he said.
He did not witness the exact push, but heard the splash of the water and turned to see that CPL Kok was already in the well.
He was taken to hospital after being retrieved in an unconscious state from the 12m-deep well and died later that night.
Of the five SCDF officers charged over the death of CPL Kok, two have been sentenced. Staff Sergeant Muhammad Nur Fatwa Mahmood was sentenced to one year and four weeks in jail, while Staff Sergeant Adighazali Suhaimi received one month's jail.
The remaining officer to be dealt with is First Warrant Officer Mohamed Farid Mohd Saleh, 34, who was charged with abetting a rash act causing death. He is set for a trial.
In response to queries, SCDF said all men have been suspended since May or July last year.
The maximum penalty for causing grievous hurt by a rash act is four years' jail, a S$10,000 fine, or both.
The trial continues this afternoon and is slated to run until Jun 21.