Drowning at Singapore International Triathlon due to undetected heart condition

The man who drowned at last year’s Singapore International Triathlon had an undetected heart condition, a state coroner ruled, saying that there were no safety lapses at the event. — Reuters pic
The man who drowned at last year’s Singapore International Triathlon had an undetected heart condition, a state coroner ruled, saying that there were no safety lapses at the event. — Reuters pic

SINGAPORE, Sept 14 — There were no safety lapses at last year’s Singapore International Triathlon that caused the death of Briton Stephen Begley, the court ruled, classifying his death as an unfortunate misadventure.

Yesterday, State Coroner Kamala Ponnampalam said that it was Begley’s pre-existing, undetected heart condition that led him to drown in the open sea when he took part in the 1.5km swim segment of the triathlon, which was held on September 10 last year at East Coast Park.

Begley, a financial advisor who had been living in Singapore since 2012, was pronounced dead in the hospital at 11.10am the same day, after he could not be resuscitated.

Delivering her findings, Kamala said that it was during the second lap of the swim segment when he stopped moving in the water.

Begley had a previously undetected heart condition known as cardiac arrhythmia, which is a group of conditions where one’s heartbeat is irregular, too fast, or too slow.

His heart condition was in turn caused by blockage of the artery supplying blood to the heart.

Begley did not show any signs of being unwell before the event, and had been training regularly for the race.

On the day, he was joined by two other team-mates, Paul Molloy and Rob White, who last saw him just as he began his second lap.

Begley’s fitness tracker showed the time when his stroke rate fell to zero while he was swimming the second lap.

This was after it peaked at about 37 strokes per minute.

“This uncharacteristic decline in his performance was likely the period during which the cardiac arrhythmias manifested and ultimately led to his drowning,” Kamala said.

No safety lapses 

The state coroner noted that there were no safety lapses at the event. Investigations showed that the layout of the venue and the provision of resources at the triathlon were in full compliance with guidelines.

The response of the water rescue team appears to be adequate.

Begley was sighted about the same time when he stopped moving in the water, she said, pointing to data retrieved from his fitness tracker watch, which corroborated with evidence in court.

Two lifeguards in a kayak who were patrolling the race vicinity spotted a pink swimcap floating, and realised that it was a participant whose body was submerged below the sea surface.

One of the lifeguards, Atlas Tong Ching Sun, got to Begley and tried to keep his head above water. He noted that the Briton’s eyes were closed and that there was foam around his nose and mouth area.

A jetski later towed them to shore, where paramedics started administering cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on Begley.

Attempts to revive him by paramedics and doctors were not successful, and he was later pronounced dead at the hospital.

Friends say he was fit 

Begley’s teammates, who were also his friends and housemates, gave evidence in court that he would swim about 20 laps about two to three times a week. He would also head to the gym, and take up yoga classes.

His brother testified that he has no known medical history apart from rugby-related knee and back injuries.

Begley was a prominent name in both the Singapore and Scottish rugby scene.

The 1.96m-tall utility forward, who played for the Glasgow Accies and Glasgow Hawks in Scotland in the 1990s to 2005, was a pivotal member of an unbeaten Hawks side that won the Scottish Second Division title and the Scottish Cup in 1998.

After moving to Singapore, he also played for Bucks Rugby Football Club, which is one of the top rugby sides here.

Begley’s death is the second fatality at the Singapore International Triathlon. In 2009, Singaporean Calvin Lee Wee Sing, 42, drowned during the 1.5km relay swim leg.

Listing a few “preventive steps” to mitigate the risk of death or injury from cardiac arrhythmic episodes or other exertion-related disorders during sporting events, the state coroner said that participants need to ensure that they are in good physical health before they embark on a triathlon or other similar endurance sports events.

They should also learn to assess their fitness and level of ability. — TODAY