SINGAPORE - Just three seconds after Corporal Kok Yuen Chin fell into the Tuas View Fire Station pump well, a fellow Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officer gave instructions in a panic for another to enter the well to save him.
The phrase "Go down, faster", said in Mandarin, is heard repeatedly in video footage that captured the last moments of Cpl Kok, 22, before he is pushed into the 12m-deep well on the night of May 13 last year.
The instruction was directed at Cpl Sok Leng, a swimming instructor who was told to be on standby in case anything went awry, Staff Sergeant Ng Meng Kiat told the court on Wednesday (June 19).
Taking the witness stand in an ongoing trial involving two SCDF officers linked to Cpl Kok's death, Staff Sgt Ng, also known as Chris, said he gave the instruction so quickly after the full-time national serviceman fell in because of "instinct" when Cpl Kok did not resurface.
On the night of the incident, Cpl Kok was pushed into the Tuas View Fire Station pump well in a ragging ritual that was part of activities to mark the completion of his national service.
The ongoing trial involves two officers each charged with aiding a rash act that caused grievous hurt by illegal omission.
Kenneth Chong Chee Boon, 38, a lieutenant, and Nazhan Mohamed Nazi, 40, a first senior warrant officer, were rota commander and deputy rota commander, respectively, and were in charge of the station that night.
The duo had allegedly failed to prevent a group of officers from making Cpl Kok enter the pump well, thereby endangering his life.
After Cpl Kok fell into the well, the group gathered there mounted a rescue operation where some, including Staff Sgt Ng, entered the well with breathing apparatus while others used equipment to pump water out of the well.
Staff Sgt Ng was the one who found and retrieved Cpl Kok's body .
He told the court that he felt around at the bottom of the well, and eventually found what he made out to be Cpl Kok's head.
"I started to pull him closer by his chin and started to ascend up the ladder, with Kok grabbed close to me," said Staff Sgt Ng.
They managed to pull Cpl Kok out of the well, but by this time, 36 minutes had passed and the Malaysian national and Singapore permanent resident had drowned.
In closed-circuit television footage of that night before the fatal push, Staff Sgt Ng is seen running ahead of the group carrying Cpl Kok and opening the pump well's gate.
When asked why he did this, Staff Sgt Ng said he thought they were playing a prank on the NSF . He added during cross-examination that he thought the prank would stop if Cpl Kok had chosen not to enter the well.
Also taking the stand on Wednesday was Sgt Mohamed Hanis Mohamed Hussain, who was not present when the group began carrying Cpl Kok to the pump well.
When the officers on duty gathered in the control room for the cake-cutting ceremony to celebrate Cpl Kok's impending operationally ready date, Sgt Hanis said he remembered people talking about the "kolam", which means well in Malay.
While he understood "kolam" to refer to a ritual that involved putting people in the fire station pump well, he said he was not concerned at that point.
"I felt that we were making fun of each other, we do that sometimes," said Sgt Hanis, who left the room after the celebration to meet a friend outside the station.
He returned after about five minutes and saw that only Chong was in the room, but he left a few minutes later, and Sgt Hanis busied himself with cleaning the room.
He realised that something had happened only when he saw people running between the pump well and fire engine located in the yard.
Earlier, witnesses had testified saying that at some point in the night, Chong had stuck his head out the control room window and told the group at the pump well not to film the incident. However, Sgt Hanis said he did not recall this.
The trial continues on Thursday.
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.