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Veteran Underwater World diver killed by stingray had loved animals and diving

SINGAPORE — When she received a call at 2pm on Tuesday that her husband had been involved in an accident at work and was sent to hospital, Madam Serene Tong thought little of it, assuming that it was minor.

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SINGAPORE — When she received a call at 2pm on Tuesday that her husband had been involved in an accident at work and was sent to hospital, Madam Serene Tong thought little of it, assuming that it was minor.

Her husband, Mr Philip Chan, was a veteran diver at Underwater World Singapore (UWS). Years ago, a sand tiger shark bite had left him needing stitches and a hospital stay, but he recovered and continued working at the attraction.

By the time she reached the hospital, their two daughters broke the news that her husband was “gone”.

“The worst thing was ... I didn’t even rush down,” said Mdm Tong, 59, before breaking down in tears. 

Mr Chan, 62, died in Singapore General Hospital (SGH) on Tuesday (Oct 4), after getting stabbed in the chest by a stingray while he was preparing some animals for transfer to a new aquarium from UWS, where he had been working since it opened in 1991. 

The attraction closed in June this year, and Mr Chan, a senior supervisor of the Curatorial Department, was one of 10 employees who had stayed to help care for the animals while suitable new homes were being found. 

All activities to transfer the defunct attraction’s animals to new facilities have been suspended since the incident, said the Ministry of Manpower, which sent officers from its Occupational Safety and Health Inspectorate to investigate when it was informed about the incident.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) was alerted to the incident at 2.20pm on Tuesday and despatched an ambulance to UWS. 

They found Mr Chan lying near the entrance, and the paramedics performed CPR. The SCDF said the paramedics continued to administer CPR en route to SGH. 

The hospital was also alerted to be on standby to receive Mr Chan.

Family and friends turned up for Mr Chan’s wake at Block 52, Lengkok Bahru on Wednesday.

Beside his coffin, his old scuba diving suit was displayed as a reminder of his love of diving.

He was someone who passionately loved animals, and had a thirst for adventure and all-things diving related, often venturing out to the surrounding waters to catch marine wildlife, even sharks, as specimens for the aquarium.

Mr Jimmy Tan, 54, who has known Mr Chan for more than 30 years, was one of those who went on these marine specimen collection trips.

He said Mr Chan was thinking of continuing to work with animals after his contract with UWS ended, adding that he had received a job offer from River Safari.

“I remember he was still showing off his muscles, telling me he still felt very strong ... He was more like a brother to me, like family,” he said.

Last week, they met and floated the idea of a diving trip to their old haunt near Pemanggil island in Malaysia sometime in March next year.

“But now (this trip) will never happen,” Mr Tan said.

Mdm Tong told reporters that she had met Mr Chan while they were both working at Sentosa. He was a lifeguard and she was an administrative staff there.

“He was very honest, forthright ... We just clicked,” she said, revealing how the family used to go on diving trips during their 34-year marriage.

In a statement on Wednesday, Haw Par Corporation, which ran UWS, said Mr Chan was a “veteran diver, aquarist and animal caregiver who had been caring for the aquatic animals at UWS since its opening in 1991”.

Haw Par said it is assisting the authorities with investigations, adding that the company would provide “all possible support and assistance” to Mr Chan’s family.

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