Sunday, November 25, 2007

Singapore's tragedy in Cambodia

Hi Friends,

This is a sad weekend for Singapore, especially for the grieving families of our five fine Singaporean rowers.

The five,

Jeremy Goh, 24;
Stephen Loh, 31;
Reuben Kee, 23;
Poh Boon San, 27 and
Chee Wei Cheng, 20

are amongst Singapore's ablest and best and have died while representing their nation.

We share their loss.

Deepest sympathies also for the comrades of these five. The whole crew must have bonded as one during their intensive training and their sense of loss indescribable.

Life is short, Singapore.

Live it!

Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

Official: 5 Singaporean Bodies Found
(Associated Press 25.11.07)

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) -- The bodies of five Singaporean men who went missing when their boat capsized after a holiday race were pulled out of a Cambodian river Sunday, officials said. A sixth body, that of a Cambodian rower, was also found.

The Singaporeans' bodies were spotted floating downstream from the accident site in the Tonle Sap river in the capital, Phnom Penh, said police officer Mom Sitha, a member of the 150-strong search party.

"The bodies of the five missing have all been discovered," Mom Sitha said.

Grieving relatives gathered Sunday at Phnom Penh's Calmette Hospital, where the bodies were being brought for autopsy.

Mom Sitha said the bodies were located at four different sites, from less than a mile to 2.5 miles south of where the five disappeared after their dragon boat capsized Friday.

There had been 22 Singaporeans on the boat, which had just completed the 1,640-yard course in the traditional Cambodian boat race festival.

The Cambodian rower drowned after his boat capsized Friday, said Nhim Vanda, vice president of the National Committee for Disaster Management. He did not elaborate.

Although there were no deaths last year, there have been a handful of fatalities previously associated with the race, which attracts a huge crowd of onlookers. Chea Koeun, a deputy director of the national committee that organizes the festival, said this year's number of deaths was the highest ever and included foreigners for the first time.

The accident occurred as the Singaporeans decided to continue rowing from the finish line to shore, according to Cambodian officials.

Nhim Vanda said the festival organizers had offered to tow to shore all the boats of foreign competitors after they completed the race. But he said the Singaporeans declined the offer, saying there was "no need because we still had the strength to row."

When their boat approached a pontoon serving as a pier, it hit swirling water and overturned, Nhim Vanda said. Police boats were able to rescue only 17 of them at the scene.

Singapore's navy sent a team of eight to assist Cambodian authorities in the search.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen sent a message to his Singaporean counterpart, Lee Hsien Loong, "conveying his shock and sadness" over the accident, Singapore's Foreign Ministry said Saturday.

The Singaporeans were among eight teams from neighboring Southeast Asian countries that participated in the annual event. The accident occurred on the first of three days of racing.
Some 440 colorful dragon boats, mainly from across Cambodia, were racing to celebrate Cambodia's annual water festival, which marks the start of the rice harvesting season and the time of the year when the Tonle Sap river reverses its flow from north to south.

Five missing S'pore rowers feared dead
(Straits Times 25.11.07)

By Judith Tan, IN PHNOM PENH and Liaw Wy-Cin , IN SINGAPORE

WHEN the search for the five missing dragon boat racers in Cambodia resumes this morning, chances of finding them alive appear to be bleak.

It would have been about 40 hours since the boat carrying 22 Singapore dragon boat racers capsized in the river on Friday.

Singapore naval divers will be using sonar equipment to comb the Tonle Sap River near the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, together with local rescue workers.

According to eyewitnesses, survivors and race officials, the Singapore team was making its way back to the starting point, after the race, when the tragedy occurred.

Instead of waiting for a boat to tow them back, the team had decided to row towards shore themselves.

When they were close to shore, a wave hit them, causing the boat to collide with a pontoon and overturn. Team members were sucked under the pontoon. Seventeen racers surfaced and five did not.

The missing five are: Jeremy Goh, 24; Stephen Loh, 31; Reuben Kee, 23; Poh Boon San, 27 and Chee Wei Cheng, 20.

It is believed that a combination of strong currents and fatigue after the race could play a part in the likely drowning of the five men. They could also have been knocked unconscious when the 500kg boat capsized in the 9m-deep water.

The racers were not wearing life jackets.

One survivor who declined to be named said the team panicked under water and the current was pushing them down, so they all kicked their way upwards. He was treated for bruises on his face.

Eyewitness Joey Paraiso said on television last night that the current was strong. 'It happened so quickly. The Singaporean rowers, one by one, floated and saved themselves. There were some railings that they were able to hold on to.

'They were not able to swim normally, so they just looked for something to hang on to... The current was a bit strong,' he said.

The race was held to celebrate Cambodia's Water Festival, which takes place each year at full moon to celebrate the changing of the Tonle Sap River course.

This year, more than 1 million people were expected to attend the three-day race, which is Cambodia's biggest annual event. There were 432 participating boats.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday expressed his sadness at the accident.

'I share the deep concerns of the families of the five Singaporeans. The Singapore Government will do all it can to provide the necessary assistance,' he said in a statement.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Vivian Balakrishnan said: 'Our priorities are to find the missing, to provide comfort to family
members and then find out what happened.'

Relatives of the missing men flew to Phnom Penh yesterday afternoon. On arrival, they went to the site of the accident before going to a hotel to be briefed on rescue efforts.

A brother of missing racer Jeremy Goh, who declined to be named, said Jeremy left for Cambodia on Thursday and was due back tomorrow.

He said at Changi Airport yesterday: 'We're just going there to see what's going on and hoping for the best.'


joon said...

Very tragic end to five aspiring youths. They had passion! Well, life is such, unexpected. Do whatever you want.

nofearSingapore said...

Hi joon,
Yes, passion, full of promise.
I do not know them personally yet I can feel the sorrow and hurt from their students' and friends' accounts.
Life sometimes sucks!
Let's use whatever time we have to do good to others, to say "I love you" to those we care, to just be there for anyone needing a shoulder to lean on.


Anonymous said...

wj: wei cheng was my brother's best friend. the journalist couldn't get any info on him. but if i can describe him in one word. it would be outstanding. he was the rah rah rah kinda guy.

NB: This is wj's comment about wei cheng. Dr.Huang