The good thing about hiking in Singapore is that there are all sorts of trails to choose from and most of them are generally safe – but if you factor in the crazy weather we’ve been having lately, it can be a recipe for disaster.
Instagram user Bucky Hussain recounted his near-death experience at the sprawling and rustic Sungei Buloh Nature Reserve wetlands, in a recent Instagram post.
Hussain and his family were out for a walk at the reserve on Monday, post-New Year feasting, but were not prepared for the massive downpour.
“No umbrellas, and obviously limited shelter in the reserve. We decided to carry the kids and brisk walk/run our way out,” he said.
“A few meters away from Hide 1E, there is a small bridge over a storm drain connecting the tidal ponds to Sungei Buloh Besar which empties into the Johor Straits, and by now was torrential. Heavy rain and the high tide meant that the river was overflowing into the lower tidal ponds, and there was a good 3-5cm of water covering the bridge.”
Hussain carried his daughter Ashley with him, while his wife was with his son and they crossed quickly, wading through the rising water. That was when he said he felt his body sink and he was “inhaling water”.
“Huge hole in the bridge”
He realised he had fallen into a huge hole in the bridge while still holding his daughter. The flooding had made the water all dark and murky and he could not differentiate the hole from the rest of the planks on the bridge.
In survival mode, he made sure his daughter was safe and would not float away but at this point, his legs were getting swept up by the current.
Thankfully he managed to find a side plank to anchor his elbow and soon he managed to get his daughter and himself out of the water with the help of a passing group of people.
In the post, Hussain said his “hundred of hours” spent diving, being caught in riptides, bad currents and other “sketchy situations” had prepped him enough to know that he was seconds away from drowning.
His family and the group who helped them through the ordeal stayed on after the harrowing incident at the spot to warn other people on the trail – especially those with kids – about the hole. He said that they even tried to find planks to cover it but everything just kept floating away.
While Hussain and his family are safe, his whole backpack was underwater and he lost or damaged some of his personal items like his Ray Ban sunnies, his camera and lens, which are now spoilt, and tore his pair of hiking pants.
How prepared were the authorities in this situation?
Having barely processed what had just happened, Hussain felt that he need to let the National Parks Board (NParks) know about the hole and the dangers of leaving it unattended. He found there was no staff on duty at the visitor’s center.
His wife then called the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) hotline as the next option but was told that if she did not need an ambulance, that was the wrong number to call even after explaining their situation.
Eventually, they managed to get through to someone from NPark who was stationed at another visitor center in Sungei Buloh.
He said, “…After a wait that felt way too long, we got through to the other visitor center at the newer extension, and the person – after confirming the issue is not at Eagle Point (which tells me there is a similar issue at Eagle Point) casually said ‘oh ok.. I’ll go take a look la”.
However, Hussain reported later in his comments section that NParks had fixed the hole and staff were on-site.
According to a statement by NParks group director of conservation Lim Liang Jim on Jan. 25, the gap on the bridge has been fixed and the area was cordoned off following the incident.
He also added that they will be monitoring the water levels in the reserve closely and will undertake temporary closure to sections that may be subject to flooding.
Safety first, kids first
Hussain also had some parting words in his post. He called out SCDF (which has since apologized) to rethink their protocols.
Still disappointed at the response he got from them, he said that, as the people most will depend on to save lives, hearing “sorry wrong agency” was unacceptable.
He also had a message for parents: “Nobody will save your children but you… when something does happen, you need to be able to react, and react fast. Parents who are always on your phones or distracted around your kids, just don’t.”
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