Skip to main content

Advertisement

Advertisement

NParks disputes arborists’ diagnosis on tembusu tree in fatal incident

SINGAPORE — The Botanic Gardens tembusu tree that toppled and killed a woman in February was found to have a 1.5m long “cavity” during an inspection last September, but this was deemed a misdiagnosis, said a National Parks Board representative Wednesday (Aug 30).

NParks disputes arborists’ diagnosis on tembusu tree in fatal incident

Workers cutting a fallen Tembusu tree , which caused the death of a woman, at Singapore Botanic Garden on Feb 12, 2017. Photo: Wee Teck Hian/TODAY

SINGAPORE — The Botanic Gardens tembusu tree that toppled and killed a woman in February was found to have a 1.5m long “cavity” during an inspection last September, but this was deemed a misdiagnosis, said a National Parks Board representative Wednesday (Aug 30).

At the Coroner’s Inquiry into Radhika Angara’s death, NParks deputy director Elango Velautham said a cavity in the tree trunk could suggest decay, which would mean an “intrusion into (the) structural integrity” of the tree. But on this count, the inspection report had “wrongly perceived” a natural protrusion called a flute to be a cavity, he said.

Marking a twist in the inquest, Mr Velautham’s testimony contrasted with what two independent arborists had testified last month.

According to him, the tree’s roots showed it was in good health. Its root collar was well-formed and expanded outwards to form buttress roots. There was nothing to suggest any weakness, said Mr Velautham, who specialises in arboriculture and conservation.

The independent arborists had said the tree, which was more than 270 years old, had decaying roots but no visible signs that warranted more intensive checks. They said the weather conditions before, and on the day of the incident, could also have contributed to the 40m tree toppling.

In the hearing in July, arborist Derek Yap had testified that about 70 per cent of the tree trunk at its 2m point (measured from ground level) was decayed. This could have affected the tree’s structural integrity, said the private consultant with environmental impact assessment firm Camphora.

After the “cavity” — which was 1.5m long, 0.2m deep and 0.3m wide — was identified, Mr Velautham said further checks determined it to be a “flute”, a natural protrusion and a form of protection for some trees. The inspection last September was the most recent before the fatal accident, and a report in September 2015 had not identified any defect, he said.

“A cavity of that length, depth and height could not have happened over a year,” he said.

Angara’s father, Mr Krishna Angara, was in court and questioned why the initial red flag had not warranted more sophisticated investigation using diagnostic tools, instead of “(getting) another certified arborist to say it is not a cavity”.

Lawyer Chelva Rajah, who is acting for the family, questioned the absence of documentary proof showing how the misdiagnosis was determined. The initial report had identified what appeared to be a serious defect in the tree, he noted.

In response, Mr Velautham said NParks arborists had written an “internal statement” after following up on the September 2016 report. They noted the flute was “wrongly perceived” as a cavity. But the document was not produced in court Wednesday.

The court also heard that “trees of interest” such as the tembusu tree are inspected twice a year, double what international standards require. Such trees include large trees, trees in carparks and by the road, and those in areas “highly frequented” by people.

Angara, a regional digital marketing head for Asia-Pacific at MasterCard, was at an outdoor concert near the gardens’ Shaw Foundation Symphony Stage on Feb 11 when the tree toppled. The 38-year-old Indian national died from traumatic asphyxia with broken ribs at 5.17pm that day, about an hour after the tree fell on her. Her French husband Jerome Rouch-Sirech and their one-year-old twins were also injured.

Mr Rouch-Sirech and Angara’s parents and sister were in court Wednesday. The inquiry will continue on Sept 21.

Read more of the latest in

Advertisement

Popular

Advertisement

Stay in the know. Anytime. Anywhere.

Subscribe to get daily news updates, insights and must reads delivered straight to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, I agree for my personal data to be used to send me TODAY newsletters, promotional offers and for research and analysis.

Aa