Girl, 5, who drowned in condo pool was unsupervised by mother: Coroner

·Senior Reporter
·5 min read
Little girl in a swimming pool. (PHOTO: Getty Images)
Little girl in a swimming pool. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — A five-year-old girl who drowned in a condominium swimming pool could not swim or float even with the use of a swimming board, according to coroner findings released on Monday (18 October).

The girl had been left unsupervised in the pool after her mother returned home to use a toilet and prepare dinner.

When the mother returned, she could not find her daughter. She enlisted the help of a condominium security guard, who found the girl at the bottom of the 1.2-metre adult swimming pool on 8 October last year. The girl was conveyed to hospital and was later found to be brain dead. Her parents decided to take her off life support to end her suffering.

The girl was pronounced dead at 11.06pm on 11 October 2020 at KK Women and Children’s Hospital. An autopsy found the girl’s cause of death to be from drowning, with her only other injuries found to be consistent with resuscitation efforts. She was then 1.06m tall and weighed 18kg.

Delivering her findings on Monday, Coroner Kamala Ponnampalam said that the girl likely had difficulties trying to float with her swimming board or had slipped off the narrow ledge of the swimming pool when she was walking along it. She then panicked and began gulping water before sinking to the bottom of the pool, according to the coroner.

She found the girl's death to be a tragic misadventure and reiterated the need for children to be supervised by adults while at swimming pools. 

"This incident is yet another stark reminder that children are impulsive and unpredictable. Even the most compliant child is often given to curiosity. The young child also lacks the maturity to fully understand the dangers present," said Ponnampalam. 

"In the case of a swimming pool, a child may not appreciate how swiftly she may be overcome if she should inadvertently fall into the deep waters. There must always be an attentive adult present to warn and prevent an unfortunate incident." 

A notice board at the side of the swimming pool stated that there was no automated external defibrillator or lifeguard on duty at the condominium.

Girl only had three swimming lessons before death 

Before her demise, the girl had had three swimming lessons with a coach at her condo pool on 24, 28 September and 5 October last year. She was a beginner who could not swim or float in water. 

The coach had taught the girl how to float with a pool noodle. The girl was interested to try floating using a swimming board, but did not manage to maintain her balance in the water. The coach advised her not to use the board until she could float confidently. He described the girl as shy and reserved who would panic while floating unassisted.

The coach testified that when children struggle in a pool, they end up sinking fast due to the amount of water they gulp. According to the coach, the girl might have tried using the board but lost her balance.

Since moving to the condo, the mother testified that she had twice taken her daughter to play in the pool area. On one occasion, the woman had gone to the gym while her daughter remained in the pool area with another child who was supervised. She knew that her daughter could not swim or float as she had attended only three swimming lessons.

On the day of the incident, 8 October last year at around 6pm, the girl returned home from kindergarten and was keen to go to the swimming pool. She changed into her swimsuit. Her mother wanted to start preparing dinner but did not want to disappoint her daughter.

The woman brought her daughter to the ground floor of the condominium and the girl went into the 0.8m deep jacuzzi equipped with a blue swimming board at around 6.03pm. The mother did not enter the pool.

After observing that there was an adult couple present in the area, the mother, who wanted to use a toilet, told her daughter that she would return home. She felt comfortable leaving her daughter at the pool due to the presence of the couple. But she did not ask the couple to keep an eye on her daughter.

The mother then returned home. After using the toilet, the woman decided to reheat some soup for dinner as she did not think it would take her long.

She returned to the pool at about 6.31pm but could not see her daughter. She sought the assistance of a security guard but they did not see the girl.

Minutes later, the guard discovered her at the bottom of the swimming pool facing down, and jumped into the pool to bring her out. He lay the girl on the sun bed and began blowing into her mouth. The mother began crying, attracting the attention of a nearby resident, who came to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation on the girl.

CCTV footage of the pool area showed that before her death, the girl had been walking alone around the pool with her swimming board. She attempted to float at the shallow edge of the pool at one point while holding onto the board.

At around 6.19pm, she was recorded heading to the back of the pool with a board. A minute later, a small movement could be seen in the water, with the board spotted floating in the water seconds later. The board floated away and the movement subsided.

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