2 in 20 pools have lifeguards

State Coroner Marvin Bay was so concerned about the deaths by drowning of two young students from China that he convened a combined hearing yesterday.

Deaths by accidental drowning, particularly at hotel swimming pools, are preventable, he said.

But this requires careful thought into the pool design, safety features, resuscitation equipment and constant vigilance, he said.

Mr Bay was delivering his combined findings on the deaths of the two boys who died on the same day in separate accidents at two hotel swimming pools.

On Feb 3, Yao Junjie, 12, was found struggling and submerged in the swimming pool of Hotel Royal.

Hospital doctors later managed to resuscitate him, but he remained critically ill and was in a coma until he died on Feb 12. (See report on right.)

On the same day, Wu Jintang, 15, jumped into the deepest end of the Orchard Parade Hotel swimming pool. By the time he was found, it was too late. He was pronounced dead in hospital. (See report above.)

In his findings, Mr Bay said that local hotels receive a significant number of foreign students on vacation and many are poor or non-swimmers.

Yet, they may not be able to resist the allure of the hotel pool without fully knowing the dangers, he said.

"It may be apt for local hotels to look into these public swimming pools (run by Sports Singapore) as the gold standard," he said.

Yesterday, The New Paper called 20 hotels, including Royal Hotel and Orchard Parade Hotel.

Only two hotels, including Orchard Parade Hotel, said they have lifeguards on duty.

Singapore Life Saving Society president Richard Tan thinks this is a concern as every pool may be a potential hazard.

Lifeguard Quek Cheow Kwang, 66, said it is always best to have a lifeguard on duty as they are trained to spot and handle dangers that children or even parents may not be aware of.

Dr Teo Ho Pin, chairman of the National Water Safety Council, said lifeguards are also trained to help users with minor injuries and prevent them from getting into further trouble in the pool.

He added that pools should be properly designed, with clear signs that warn users of the depth and where the deep end of the pool is.

"Clear signs will make people pay attention to the dangers of the pool," Dr Teo added.

But having posters or other notices around the pool may not necessarily exclude the hotel's liability from personal injury, said lawyer Ravinderpal Singh from Kalco Law.

"If the tiles were slippery or there are safety defects, they would still be held liable.

"But if there was nothing wrong with the pool then it becomes tricky because it depends on who was responsible in each case," he said.

But experts said that the onus ultimately lies with the pool users.

Said Mr Tan: "It is still important for parents and guardians to constantly watch over children in pools, even if there are lifeguards present.

Friend tried to save victim, threw chair

He had been in the water for just a few seconds when he made his way to the centre of the pool.

Not knowing how to swim, he began struggling as the pool got deeper.

By the time a hotel receptionist pulled him out and paramedics arrived, Yao Junjie, 12, had no pulse and was not breathing.

He was taken to a hospital and doctors managed to resuscitate him.

But he died of pneumonia on Feb 12, after being in a coma for nine days.

State Coroner Marvin Bay yesterday said that Junjie, a Chinese national, arrived in Singapore on Jan 31 with 14 other students and their high school teacher for a school trip.

They checked in at Hotel Royal, located in Newton, on Feb 1.

At about 7.30pm on Feb 3, Junjie and his classmates were given free time to use the hotel facilities.

Junjie initially declined to join his friends at the pool on the first storey, but he later changed his mind and made his way there.

He went into the water after changing into his boxer shorts at about 8.20pm.

There was no lifeguard on duty as some of the receptionists were swimmers and the hotel's practice was to ensure that staff who were competent swimmers would be on duty for each shift, Mr Bay said.

Junjie classmates initially did not notice him struggling to stay afloat.

By the time they did, he was exhausted.

They tried to save him by throwing a life buoy and even a plastic chair into the pool, but to no avail.

It was only when his teacher heard the commotion coming from the pool that she realised a student was in trouble. She quickly alerted a female hotel receptionist, who rushed to the pool, dived in and pulled Junjie out with the help of several other students.

The receptionist performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on Junjie. But when paramedics arrived about 10 minutes later, they found that Junjie had no pulse and was not breathing.

He was rushed to KK Women's and Children's Hospital, where doctors eventually managed to resuscitate him.

But they were concerned that 56 minutes had passed since he had stopped breathing.

They also found that his blood pressure was unstable and that he required adrenaline and dopamine infusion.

Junjie was transferred to the Children's Intensive Care Unit, where he remained critically ill.

Six days later, doctors suspected brain stem death.

Junjie died at 1.30pm on Feb 12.

A pathologist found that the boy had died from pneumonia and had suffered considerable brain damage.

Mr Bay said yesterday that there is no cautionary sign at the Hotel Royal pool to warn non-swimmers about the deep end of the pool, although the hotel plans to set up a notice board on site.

The hotel also did not maintain resuscitation equipment, he said.

Mr Bay ruled out foul play and called the case a tragic misadventure.


This article was first published on Aug 12, 2015.
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