S'pore diving instructor and student drown off Tioman

SINGAPORE - In A rare tragedy, a Singaporean diving instructor and his student, also a Singaporean, both drowned in the waters off Pulau Tioman island in Malaysia on Saturday.

Quoting the operator of a Tioman diving equipment shop, Shin Min Daily News reported on Sunday that the victims could have run out of air while diving.

The dive shop operator, who was identified only as Mr Reynalds, 36, told the Chinese language evening daily that the pair had rented a tank each from him on Friday before they went diving.

He claimed that the men did not replace the tanks and used them again to go diving on Saturday, adding that perhaps they did not realise the amount of air they had left in their tanks.

There is also a possibility that they had run into problems inflating their dive vests to return to the surface, Shin Min reported.

The diving instructor has been identified as Mr Tan Seah Heng, 48, and his student as Mr Lee Yong Yeow, 35.

When The New Paper spoke to a veteran Singaporean diving instructor about the drownings, he was struck by the unusual circumstances of the tragedy.

For one, he was surprised by the claim that the victims had not replaced the air tanks from the day before.

Declining to be named, the 40-year-old, who has been a diving instructor since 1995, said that it was highly unlikely that the men had used the same tanks to go diving over two days.

Air tanks usually cannot last for a full day, let alone two, he said, adding: "Divers can safely go underwater when there's 200 bars of air in their tanks and usually resurface when there's 50 bars left for safety reasons."

He was also shocked that an instructor had drowned with his student.

"I've been diving since 1992 and in all my years of diving, I've never heard of a case of an instructor and his student dying in the same incident. In my experience, this is unheard of."

Another diver, who also requested anonymity, also said that he had never heard of such an incident in his 20 years of diving.

When TNP went to Mr Lee's wake at the void deck of a block of flats at Bedok Reservoir on Sunday evening, a family friend said that he was a researcher with the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star).

The friend, who declined to be identified, added that Mr Lee was married but did not have children.

"The tragedy came as a shock to everyone. He had a lot going for him. He was a good person. I'm very sad that he's gone," he said.

When TNP approached a woman who was being comforted by other mourners, one of her companions, a slim bespectacled woman said that it was "not convenient" for them to be interviewed.

Declined to comment

When TNP visited Mr Tan's condominium at Dover Rise near Buona Vista, a woman answered the intercom, but declined to comment on the incident.

The Star newspaper in Malaysia reported that the men had died during a diving trip off the island's Air Batang beach.

When they were found to be struggling in the water, other divers went to their aid and took them to shore at about noon on Saturday.

Assistant Superintendent (ASP) Zainul Mujahidin Mat Yudin, the deputy police chief of Rompin, Pahang, said the case has been classified as a sudden death.

"Initial investigations showed both victims and a woman were in a group diving in the site about 25m from the shore," he said.

Another Malaysian newspaper, the New Straits Times, identified the woman as Mr Lee's wife.

It quoted ASP Zainul Mujahidin as saying: "During the incident, the wife suddenly realised that her husband and their coach were having some kind of difficulties before she went up to the surface and screamed for help.

"Several individuals managed to bring the victims to the beach and some even tried to give CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) to them, but it was just too late."

Other diving tragedies

March 2013

Singapore Management University professor Winston Koh, 50, was reported missing at sea during his first scuba diving trip at Pulau Dayang, off Mersing in Malaysia.

His body was found four days later.

September 2009

Commercial diver Gerald Chia Jia Jie, 21, was three days into his assignment when he drowned.

It was his first offshore commercial dive. While he was underwater with his buddy, he ran out of oxygen, panicked and rushed to the surface.

The dive team searched for Mr Chia for two hours, to no avail.

Two days later, his decomposed body was found floating near the oil rig he was working on at sea off West Jurong Anchorage.

September 2008

Commercial diver Mohammed Borhan Jamal, 26, had been working underwater with two colleagues, repairing the hull of an oil tanker at the Eastern Petroleum A Anchorage off the Bedok Jetty when he disappeared.

Twelve days later, his body washed ashore on Pulau Putri, a tiny island off Nongsa town in the north-east of Batam.

February 2007

Mr Sue Qing Wen and five other dive students headed out to Pulau Hantu for their final dive assessment.

He was one dive away from qualifying as an open-water diver.

The 20-year-old sank out of the dive crew's sight and drowned. His body was found three days later, his tank still strapped on. It was filled with an exceptionally high level of carbon monoxide.

April 2006

Mr Bernard Lo, 28, drowned on a diving holiday in Sabah. The Citibank employee was diving with his fiancee, two friends and three Japanese tourists in a famous diving area off the coast of Sipadan Island.

His body was found about half an hour later.

November 2004

Mr Melvin Ng Kin Thuan, 26, drowned in a diving accident at Australia's Great Barrier Reef while on a three-day diving trip.

He drowned off Queensland after spending only 15 minutes underwater.

He may have died of lung expansion injury, caused when a diver holds his breath while ascending to the surface.

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