Pupil fell 4 storeys from flying fox and suffered fractures, instructor gets jail

Christine Tan
The Straits Times
February 26, 2024

An outdoor activity instructor has been handed a jail sentence of two months for failing to ensure that a Primary 4 pupil was securely attached to a pulley during a zipline exercise.

The girl suffered fractures to her elbow, hip and pelvis as a result of falling four storeys, or 11m, during the incident at Concord Primary School on Feb 12, 2020.

Alvina Lee Peiyu, 34, pleaded guilty on Feb 26 to one charge of causing grievous hurt through a negligent act that endangers human life.

District Judge Shawn Ho said the victim could have lost her life, adding that the case involved a high element “where participants were fully dependent on the guidance and supervision of trained instructors in an inherently risky activity”.

The court heard that Lee had about four years of experience as a freelance instructor at the time of the incident. She was trained to set up and conduct such activities.

The victim, who was nine at the time, was participating in a programme in school which was conducted by outdoor education company Innotrek.

On the day of the incident, Lee was tasked to guide pupils at the fourth level of the school, check their safety equipment and send them down the zipline to a platform at the third level.

The children would then walk back up to the fourth floor to return the equipment to the instructor for the next participant.

Lee’s job was to check that the pupils’ personal protective equipment was safely secured and connected to the zipline cable before sending them down.

Another instructor who was initially with Lee had helped to attach the zipline pulley to the harness the pupils were wearing.

The first six pupils completed the course without a hitch. The instructor who was with Lee then left as he had other duties.

The victim, who cannot be named due to a gag order, was the seventh participant.

Lee failed to notice that the auto-locking carabiner, which was supposed to be securely attached to the zipline pulley, was instead attached to a cable tie.

This meant the entire weight of the girl was borne by only the cable tie.

The cable tie snapped soon after the girl went on the flying fox.

The court heard that another instructor had attached the auto-locking carabiner to the cable tie, but Lee admitted that she was supposed to unlock the carabiner from the cable tie and attach it to the zipline pulley.

As a result of the incident, the girl spent 15 days in hospital.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Sunil Nair argued for two to four months’ jail for Lee, noting that the victim had suffered serious injuries.

“Any such activities involving children in school should be conducted with due care,” said DPP Nair.

Lee’s lawyer, Ms Phyllis Wong from Infinitus Law, said in mitigation that her client made a genuine mistake in a momentary lapse of judgment.

“The offending act was not deliberate. My client did not blatantly ignore any safety rules or deliberately choose not to check the victim’s safety equipment,” said Ms Wong, adding that it was Lee’s first offence.

The lawyer added that her client developed post-traumatic stress disorder and adjustment disorder as a result of the incident.

Ms Wong said Lee, who still works as a freelance instructor, is now “hyper alert and obsessed about safety after the incident”.

Lee was removed from the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) registry and suspended from offering services to all MOE schools after the incident.

All height-based activities in schools were also suspended as a review of processes was conducted.

Following the review, protocols were updated. Safety measures now include having a mandatory additional instructor check against a safety checklist before participants are allowed to get on a zipline.

Schools have to also verify that instructors have relevant certifications before hiring vendors for such outdoor activities, and ensure that at least one certified person is on site to handle rescue situations when necessary.

The new protocols came into effect on Jan 5, 2021. But another incident on Feb 3, 2021, saw all schools again suspend outdoor activities involving heights.

It happened after Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) student Jethro Puah Xin Yang, 15, died after an incident on a high-element course at the Safra Adventure Sports Centre in Yishun.

The boy lost his footing during the activity and was suspended by his safety harness in mid-air.

He lost consciousness as he was being lowered to the ground, and was unresponsive when the police arrived.

On Jan 15, 2024, volunteer outdoor activities facilitator Muhammad Nurul Hakim Mohamed Din, 23, was sentenced to six months’ jail after pleading guilty to one charge of causing grievous hurt by committing a rash act which endangered Jethro’s life.

Hakim had failed to do a physical check on Jethro’s harness, resulting in the boy’s leg loops being unbuckled after he fell.

Jethro was left hanging from the shoulder straps of his harness by his armpits. He died the next day from multi-organ failure following compression of the neck and traumatic asphyxia.

The Straits Times

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