A 35-year-old Chinese medium, who could not swim, died while conducting a ritual in the waters off Changi Beach just after midnight on Sunday.
Mr Huang Jin Yin was found almost 10 hours after he disappeared at sea, but without his left foot. His body was floating off Changi Ferry Terminal.
His father, in recounting the tragedy yesterday, said Mr Huang had let out a scream before he fell and went missing.
"My relative who was standing nearby rushed into the sea to look for him. But it was too dark and he didn't dare to swim too far out into the sea," said Mr Ng Thiam Chye, 60, a driver, whose surname is spelt differently from that of his son.
"Something could have bit my son. It was so painful he lost his balance and the wave carried him out to sea.
"It was an accident," he said quietly in Mandarin, his head bowed, as he grieved at his son's wake at Block 702 in Hougang.
Mr Huang, married with a two-year-old daughter, lived with his parents and was going to move into his new four-room flat in Sengkang in June.
He worked in a hardware shop.
But from a young age, he had been helping out at a temple in Hougang, as often as four times a month.
The ceremony on Sunday was for a relative who died decades ago and was not in connection with Qing Ming, said Mr Ng.
The day before, Saturday, was Qing Ming, a traditional Chinese festival popularly called tomb sweeping day when Chinese people would sweep the tombs of their ancestors in remembrance of them.
Mr Huang had been preparing for the rituals since a week ago, said Mr Ng, who was with his son on Saturday night as he (the son) went from a temple in Hougang to another in Tampines to pray.
It was drizzling and Mr Ng said he decided to go home while a relative accompanied his son to Changi Beach.
But unlike two previous occasions at the same place, his son did not want anyone to accompany him into the waters.
"He told my relative he would do it alone," Mr Ng said. "My relative obeyed his instruction."
Police were informed of the incident at about 2.45am and the Singapore Civil Defence Force took an amphibious vehicle and an inflatable rescue boat to search for Mr Huang.
His body was found at 8am.
Police have classified the incident as unnatural death and are investigating.
They also said the ritual Mr Huang was said to have carried out at Changi Beach did not require a permit under the Public Order Act.
Said Mr Ng of his son: "He was not paid to perform such rituals. This is his way of doing charity."
This article was published on April 8 in The Straits Times.
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