‘Challenging’ 3-day forest search for missing durian hunter

‘Challenging’ 3-day forest search for missing durian hunter
(Standing, from left) Investigating officers Insp Jane Chen and ASP Melvin Seah, along with officers from the K-9 Unit Senior Staff Sergeant Morgan Chew and Station Inspector Samuel Shue were all involved in the operation. PHOTO: Koh Mui Fong/TODAY
Rescue operation hampered by low morning visibility, mosquitoes and terrain
Published: 10:23 PM, July 17, 2017
Updated: 10:37 AM, July 18, 2017

SINGAPORE — The search for a 57-year-old man who went missing earlier this month after venturing into the forest to pick durians was an “undoubtedly difficult” case to crack, said police officers on Monday (July 17).

It took 50 to 60 officers combing through the forests of Bukit Batok, Bukit Timah and Mandai to locate Mr Low Ah Kay, who was eventually found around noon on July 10 in a forested area near the Kranji Expressway.

Mr Low had been missing four days and was last seen at Block 498, Jurong West Street 41.

According to his family, he has mild dementia and had suffered a stroke recently.

After he was reported missing on July 7, police officers from the Jurong Division Headquarters checked with hospitals and other police posts, and tried tracking his phone. It is unclear if he had a phone with him.

The family had told the police that Mr Low, who was weakened after the stroke, regularly ventured into areas with durian trees when the fruit was in season. They added that he rode his motorcycle to the area.

Officers began their search the next morning. Many factors did not work in their favour, said Assistant Superintendent Melvin Seah, 31.

Most desk-bound investigation officers “have not gone to the forest for quite some time” and did not have the necessary clothing and equipment with them, he said.

“Singapore is very big, even though it seems very small. There are a lot of durian plantations here. Furthermore, forested areas can be very dense,"  said Inspector Jane Chen, 31.

“When you stray from pathways in the forests, the trails are undulating. Visibility levels were very low, especially during early-morning searches.”

The next afternoon on July 9, officers from the Special Operations Command, K-9 Unit and Gurkha Contingent were roped in.

Their break came after a family friend of Mr Low’s spotted his motorcycle along the Kranji Expressway, on the western boundary of Tengah, at about 2pm that day.

Around noon the next day, a few Gurkha officers spotted Mr Low resting against a tree, partially hidden by tall grass.

He was about 400m from his motorcycle.

Weak and dehydrated from only drinking rainwater and eating leaves, he could barely speak, but managed to verify his name when asked by the officers.

He had his identity card with him and his clothes matched the description given by his family.

Aside from search operations, officers had to comfort Mr Low’s relatives and assure them that the police were doing all they could.

Emotions ran high when Mr Low was reunited with his family along the Kranji Expressway, said Insp Chen.

“The look on their faces was priceless — happiness, tears, everything. All their emotions were written on their faces.

“Even though Mr Low couldn’t say much, he raised his arm and tried to wave at them,” she said.

Mr Low was taken to Ng Teng Fong General Hospital and has been discharged. His daughter, Kate, told TODAY her father is currently “recuperating” and “doing well”.