Man & daughter, 2, have near-death experience after falling into hole in middle of flooded Sungei Buloh bridge

NParks and SCDF have since reached out to the man.

Ashley Tan | Zoe Ern Yap | January 26, 2023, 03:08 PM

Follow us on Telegram for the latest updates:

The monsoon season has enveloped Singapore in fog and heavy rain for most of the Chinese New Year period, even though it is set to clear up soon.

Unfortunately, one family of four who decided to embark on an outdoor trip to Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve after the festivities had a less-than-pleasant experience.

Sank into hole in the middle of the bridge

On Jan. 23, Bucky Hussain posted on Instagram about his family's traumatising experience at the park. He and his wife have two children, who are two and four years old.

View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Bucky Hussain (@buckyhussain)

In his Instagram post, Hussain noted that the weather was "overcast" and it was high tide, so they did not expect to see much in the way of wildlife in the nature reserve.

Nevertheless, the family was not prepared for a "massive downpour". With no shelter or umbrellas, Hussain and his wife decided to carry their children and "brisk walk/ run [their] way out".

They left Bird Observation Hide 1E to cross a small bridge that was a few meters away from them.

According to Hussain, the small bridge lay over a storm drain which connected two tidal ponds to Sungei Buloh Besar, which flows to the Johor Straits.

Due to the rain and high tide, the river was "overflowing into the lower tidal ponds", and there was "a good three to five cm of water covering the bridge".

While carrying his daughter, Ashley, Hussain waded through the water, followed by his wife and son, Alex.

While crossing the bridge, Hussain shared that he suddenly sank into a "huge hole" on the bridge.

"I felt my whole body sink, and I was inhaling water."

Speaking to Mothership, Hussain noted that that the hole was not visible before crossing.

"[The hole] was completely invisible because the water was somewhat muddy from sediment etc. being stirred up. A few other people almost fell in right after us, they didn’t see it either."

There was "no way to differentiate the hole from the remaining planks on the bridge".

In his post, Hussain also stated that there was no signage or barriers warning visitors about the hole.

He added that he quickly wrapped his arms around his daughter to "stop her from floating away", but his legs were "being swept away in the fast flowing water".

"I couldn't feel the bottom, and if I let go we were going to be sucked under the bridge," he wrote.

In his reply to Mothership, he added that the depth he sank to was "at least [his] height if not more".

Thankfully, he did not have to tread water but was able to "wedge one leg against the concrete pillars of the bridge and [get] an elbow up on a plank. "

Manoeuvred to safety

Hussain continued in his post that he got his daughter out of the water with the help of a group of youths that happened to pass by, who also helped his wife and son walk across the remainder of the bridge. Hussain also managed to hoist himself up and out of the water.

He credits his survival to "a lifetime near the ocean and hundreds of hours of diving", and shared that he and his daughter had escaped a near-death experience.

"I've been in enough bad currents, riptides and sketchy situations to know that we were seconds away from drowning".

He also described the hole as a "literal death trap", and speculated that it would have led to disastrous outcomes if a child, older person or unaware adult stumbled upon it.

The family decided to stay near the bridge for "a few minutes" in order to warn other visitors who were going in the same direction about the hazard.

According to Hussain, he and the group of youths tried patching up the hole in the bridge with planks, but to no avail as the planks floated off in the water.

He claimed that the hole "took up nearly a third of the bridge" and was "completely indiscernible from the existing bridge unless you were literally in the hole".

Condition of the family

Thankfully, Hussain's family was safe and uninjured.

However, he suffered a few "bad cuts and bruises", and was "mentally rattled" after the incident.

The family also incurred several material losses. Hussain's RayBan sunglasses fell into the water, his pants were shredded, and his wife's non-weather sealed camera and lens were damaged.

Initial calls to NParks and SCDF

The family visited Sungei Buloh's visitor centre intending to inform the National Parks Board's (NParks) staff there about the hole, but discovered that there were no staff present.

In his response to Mothership, Hussain stated that they waited for about three to five minutes at the visitor centre before calling the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF). Prior to the call, they had attempted to call NParks, but were unable to get through on any of the numbers available.

Hussain's wife dialled SCDF through 995, the emergency ambulance hotline. According to him, the operator's response "left [him] in shock", as he had apparently directed him to another agency.

Hussain quoted the operator as saying:

"Do you need an emergency ambulance? (if not) I think you have the wrong number. This is the emergency ambulance. You should address this to the right agency and-"

Hussain shared that he told the operator that if "someone calls needing an ambulance or something worse for the same issue [I] warned him about, he will regret his response" and then hung up.

Fortunately, his wife was able to make a phone call to the visitor centre at the newer extension of Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve after "a wait that felt way too long".

According to Hussain, the staff casually replied that they would "go and take a look". Hussain surmised from the staff's response that there was a similar issue at another location in the nature reserve called Eagle Point.

Calls for improvement

In his post, Hussain highlighted several takeaways from the incident:

  • NParks' lack of an emergency hotline to their headquarters.
  • The lack of staff at the visitor centre, especially on public holidays where there is higher human traffic.
  • SCDF's lack of a phone number members of the public can call for "preventative action".

Hussain urged SCDF to "rethink their protocols", and criticised the operator's response, saying that "'sorry wrong agency' is unacceptable for a civil defence force".

He shared with Mothership that he is a frequent visitor of Sungei Buloh, saying that flooding from spring tides is "not a new phenomenon".

However, he listed some factors which caused the flooding to be more severe this year, such as climate change and "a very sudden downpour of rain that made the tidal pools swell and overflow at that specific point".

NParks' response

Shortly after making the post, Hussain stated in an Instagram story and the comments section of his post that "a friend at NParks confirmed that the hole has been fixed and staff are now on site", and thanked the agency for their "swift action".

In response to Mothership's queries, NParks' Group Director of Conservation, Lim Liang Jim, said the incident had taken place at a crossing of a sluice gate.

“Waters had overflowed during the peak of the spring tide coupled with heavy rain that dislodged the floor panels, exposing a gap. The area was cordoned off following the incident, and the gap has been closed off after the water receded.

We are currently monitoring the water levels in the reserve closely and will undertake temporary closure to sections that may be subject to intermittent flooding.”

According to Lim, NParks has reached out to the family to thank them for their efforts to inform other park visitors about the gap and alerting the staff to the situation to rectify it.

“For their safety, members of the public should seek cover at the nearest shelter available, and avoid entering the nature reserves and forested areas including Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve during and immediately after inclement weather,” he advised.

According to CNA, Hussain also stated that an NParks director had "officially and personally reached out", and "committed to a bunch of improvements, not least patching the hole nearly immediately after".

SCDF's response

Hussain also updated the post with a comment on Jan. 25, stating that the SCDF had "reached out and apologised for how the operator handled this incident".

When approached by Mothership, a spokesperson for the SCDF said they were aware of the Instagram post made by Hussain.

SCDF confirmed that their call centre received a call about the hole in the bridge on Jan. 23 at around 12:10pm.

"The caller said that the hole was not visible due to the heavy rain and flooding, and that he and his daughter had fallen through it into the water. The caller mentioned that they were almost swept away, but had managed to get out safely with help from a group of people passing by."

SCDF shared that the call taker had checked with the caller if an emergency ambulance was required.

Although the caller said that no ambulance was needed, he had expressed concern that other members of the public could fall through the same hole and get injured.

The SCDF call taker replied that the caller had dialled the wrong number and explained that calling 995 was to request for an emergency vehicle.

According to SCDF's statement, the SCDF call taker also attempted to explain that this issue should be addressed to the correct agency to which the caller reiterated the urgency of the matter and that someone could get hurt if it was left unattended.

SCDF stated that they have "reviewed its response and assessed that even though the 995 hotline is for reporting emergencies such as a medical or fire incident, the call taker could have done better in managing this case by reassuring the caller that the SCDF would immediately follow-up on the issue with the appropriate agency".

They have since contacted Hussain and "expressed our regret in how the matter was handled". "The caller appreciated SCDF's follow-up," they said.

In future, the SCDF said it will review its 995 call taking protocols in handling such reports by members of the public and make the necessary improvements.

Related articles

Cover photo by Carsten Kreuzer/ Google Maps.