SCDF ragging case: Witness recalls own experience with 'kolam' ritual

Corporal Kok Yuen Chin, 22, drowned after being pushed into the 12m-deep pump well (right) at the Tuas View Fire Station on 13 May last year. (PHOTOS: Google Street View / SCDF)

SINGAPORE — The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officer who pulled Corporal Kok Yuen Chin out of the Tuas View Fire Station’s pump well said on Wednesday (19 June) that he, too, had once entered another station’s well as part of an initiation ritual.

Staff Sergeant Ng Meng Kiat recounted in court how he had voluntarily entered the Sengkang Fire Station’s pump well sometime between 2003 and 2004, shortly after joining the SCDF.

“I was new... and I wanted to make friends with new colleagues at the fire station,” recounted Ng, who is a hazardous materials specialist.

Ng was testifying on the eighth day of the trial against Lieutenant Kenneth Chong Chee Boon, 38, and First Senior Warrant Officer Mohamed Nazhan Nazi, 41 – both of whom were involved in the ragging incident on 13 May last year that ended Kok’s life.

Kok, who was then a 22-year-old full-time national serviceman (NSF), drowned after he was pushed into his station’s 12m-deep pump well during a celebration to mark his impending Operationally Ready Date (ORD).

Chong and Nazi were in charge of the officers who took part in the incident and currently face one charge each of causing grievous hurt to Kok by failing to prevent their men from making Kok enter the pump well.

Witness recounts personal experience with ‘kolam’

Recalling his own experience at Sengkang Fire Station, Ng said that a colleague had described the practice of entering the well – referred to as “kolam” (Malay for “pool”) within the SCDF – as being part of a welcoming session for new firemen.

He added that he had not been afraid of entering the pump well as he could swim.

Ng also said that he was surprised to learn that Kok could not swim as he was under the impression that SCDF officers were given swimming lessons.

‘Faster go down’: witness to swimming instructor

Recalling the night of Kok’s death, Ng said he believed that the officers had only wanted to only tease Kok. He had not expected Kok to be pushed in.

However, Ng had also asked a colleague who was a swimming instructor to stand by in case Kok slipped into the well. According to Ng, his colleague had complied and taken off his boots in preparation.

A few seconds after Kok entered the well, Ng told the swimming instructor in Mandarin to “faster go down” into the well to help Kok. Ng’s words were captured in a video taken by another officer.

Asked why he had instructed his colleague to enter the well, Ng said it had been “instinct” that motivated him. “Kok entered the water but he never resurface”, he added.

When the swimming instructor resurfaced without having located Kok, Ng instructed another officer to drain the pump well.

“We were sucking out the water and somebody attempted to use a ceiling hook,” said Ng. A ceiling hook is a tool used to puncture ceilings in the event of a fire or to drag things out of water bodies. The officers also used a ladder to aid in their rescue efforts.

At one point, Ng also entered the well equipped with gear to help him breathe underwater. After a number of attempts, Ng was able to reach a platform that led to a narrower section of the well.

By this point the well had been drained to a depth of about five to six metres, according to Ng. Describing the water as “dark” and “black-looking”, Ng said he had to “feel around” once he reached the well’s bottom.

“I manage to feel… something like clothing and I stretched out with one hand holding to ladder and other hand extended I reached out for Kok,” said Ng.

“I felt for his head first, then I start to pull him closer by his chin and I start to ascend the ladder by grabbing him close to me.”

Eventually, Ng resurfaced with Kok and exited the well with the help of ropes lowered by the other officers. Kok was conveyed to Ng Teng Fong General Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 11.02pm.

The trial continues on Wednesday.

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