SINGAPORE – When asked what he would have done if he had witnessed Corporal Kok Yuen Chin being carried to the pump well the night of May 13 last year, former Tuas View Fire Station commander Major Huang Weikang said he would have put a stop to it.
And when shown a video of the cake-cutting ceremony that preceded Cpl Kok’s death and asked how he would have responded if he had heard the word “kolam” during the celebration, Maj Huang, who was not on duty the night of the incident, said he would have been more alert.
“Why mention the kolam during a celebratory moment… There could be a possibility they might do it to Kok,” said Maj Huang, who understood “kolam” in the context of ragging to mean that someone would end up in the station’s pump well.
He was testifying on Thursday (June 13) during the fourth day of the trial, in which the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officers in charge of Tuas View Fire Station on the night that Cpl Kok, 22, drowned are contesting the charges.
On Thursday, the Deputy Public Prosecutor Kumaresan Gohulabalan took Maj Huang through two other video clips taken from closed-circuit television footage of that night, where one showed officers carrying the NSF towards the pump well and another showed the group gathered around the well.
Responding to questions about what he would have done had he been there, Maj Huang, who was station commander until December last year, said he would have put a stop to it.
“With what was said (during the celebration) about the kolam, then carrying Kok towards the pump well… you have to definitely stop it,” said Maj Huang, who is now a senior fire investigator.
He said he would have “put the actions” together and realised that it was “likely” that Kok would end up in the pump well.
The two officers on trial – 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, that night.
On May 13 last year, the full-time national serviceman (NSF) was pushed into the fire station’s pump well as part of activities to mark the completion of his national service and he later drowned. They duo were each charged in July last year with aiding a rash act that caused grievous hurt by illegal omission.
They had allegedly failed to prevent a group of officers from making Cpl Kok enter the pump well, thereby endangering his life.
In one of the videos where the officers are seen gathered around the well, a person identified as Nazhan is seen with the group and leaves the scene shortly after.
DPP Kumaresan asked: “As a commander, if you were there at the edge of the pump well as Nazhan was, would you have left the scene?”
“No, I wouldn’t have left the scene,” said Maj Huang.
Maj Huang also observed in the video that the pump well gate was open, the men were gathered around the well, and that Cpl Kok was removing his valuables from his pocket.
“I would have clarified what they were trying to do… I would have asked if they really intended for Kok to go inside… or was it just overboard teasing.”
When asked how he would have stopped the men, Maj Huang said that as a superior, “your words are command” and he believes the men would have listened to the order.
On the night of the tragedy, Maj Huang was at home when he received a call at around 9pm from Chong.
“I can’t remember his exact words, but it was along the lines of Kok fell into the kolam and they cannot find his body,” he said, adding that he was “puzzled” at why Cpl Kok was in the pump well and probed further.
“Kenneth said they were trying to suck out water to find him. Because not a lot of information was coming through so I told them carry on operations,” said Maj Huang, adding that he then alerted his division commander and headed to the fire station.
When he reached the station, he saw paramedics administering CPR to Cpl Kok. He also noticed that there was a fire engine near the pump well and equipment all over the place.
From his interactions with Cpl Kok, Maj Huang said he was a “good boy” who followed instructions well and always tried his best.
Recalling an incident where Cpl Kok was stressed over a mistake he had made during an audit, Maj Huang said Cpl Kok was still “quite smiley” when he spoke to the NSF about it.
The trial continues in the afternoon where Chong and Nazhan’s defence lawyers are expected to cross-examine Maj Huang.