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Girl, 3, locked in school bus for two hours

Toddler left behind in school bus after she couldn't take off seat belt. Father says...

We found your daughter. Come now.

The call, from a Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officer at 11am last Wednesday, was chilling.

It drove Mr Mahesh Chulliparambil and his wife into a panic.

They rushed to a carpark at Bishan Street 11, where they were told their daughter had been found.

Their three-and-a-half-year-old girl had been trapped in her school bus after she could not get off when it was at her kindergarten.

Yesterday Mr Mahesh, 41, an IT project manager, told The New Paper that his wife had watched their daughter clamber on to the school bus from the void deck of their Punggol HDB block at 7.50am that day.

But when the bus arrived at the Global Indian International School in Balestier, his daughter did not get off as she had trouble with her seat belt.

"She didn't know what do," said Mr Mahesh. "She couldn't get the belt off and she didn't think to alert the driver about it.

"But she was very strong. She remained calm and didn't cry at all."

Mr Mahesh added that the driver did not check if everyone had left the bus before driving off.

There was also no attendant on the bus that day, he said.

This was confirmed by ComfortDelgro, which had outsourced the service to a private operator.

The driver then drove to Bishan Street 11, and locked the bus with Mr Mahesh's daughter still inside.

She was found by a passer-by, who then called the police and SCDF, at about 10.40am.

MISSED CALL

It was about 11am when the couple received a call about their little girl.

"I was working at home then and missed the call on my mobile phone. My wife then received the call," he said.

Mr Mahesh said his wife, who was already panicking, then ran towards him and told him that "we have to go now".

"That was when I heard that our daughter may have been in danger.

"I always thought of myself as a strong person. But now I know I'm actually weak when my children are in danger," said the father of two. They have an older daughter who is nine.

The couple, who are permanent residents from India, immediately drove to Bishan.

"It was a 20-minute drive. A terrifying 20-minute drive.

"But I knew if it was serious they would have taken my daughter to the hospital by then, so I kept comforting myself with that," he said.

When they arrived at the carpark, his wife rushed out of the car to the ambulance and police cars.

Mr Mahesh joined her once he had parked his car.

When he ran to the ambulance, he saw his daughter smiling at him while watching a video on a mobile phone.

"It was the most relieving moment of my life," he said.

An SCDF spokesman said a cutter was used to cut through the vehicle's glass and a three-year-old girl was rescued unharmed.

Mr Mahesh said his daughter's shirt was soaked with perspiration - possibly from the heat in the bus - after the two-hour ordeal.

The couple took her to KK Women's and Children's Hospital, where his daughter was given electrolytes and fluids.

"The doctors said she was unhurt and told us we could take her home," he said.

Mr Mahesh said he is in constant contact with the school and ComfortDelGro Corporation about the incident.

"Of course I was angry. Not at the driver but at the lapses in the system.

"There should be an attendant on the bus to check on the students and there should be someone from the school to make sure everyone gets off safely," he said.

He has raised these issues with the school.

A ComfortDelGro spokesman said the incident occurred because of a lapse in standard operating procedures.

SUB-CONTRACTOR

She added the driver of the school bus is a sub-contractor who was aware of the requirement for a bus attendant.

"Unfortunately, she was not able to find one and went ahead to operate the service on July 2.

"We will step up enforcement to ensure that these regulations and procedures are strictly adhered to," she said.

TNP also contacted the Global Indian International School, but did not receive a response by press time.

Mr Mahesh said his daughter has since returned to school.

An arrangement has been made with the school where they would be called each morning when their daughter arrives, he said.

He added there was an attendant on the school bus yesterday, and that the school had notified him of his daughter's arrival.

"The incident is over. Hopefully from here, the processes will be improved. What was most important is that my daughter was unhurt.

"It's something that no parent should ever have to experience," he said.


It was a 20-minute drive. A terrifying 20-minute drive.

- Mr Mahesh Chulliparambil, rushing to his daughter, who was trapped in a school bus

There should be a helper

According to Mr Wong Ann Lin, the Chairman of the Singapore School Transport Association, there should have been an attendant at the back of the bus to watch over the children.

"School buses have regulations and standards that have to be followed," he said. "There should be no reason not to have an attendant at the back of the bus, especially for younger children still in kindergarten."

For buses ferrying children who are at least primary school age, an attendant is required if it is authorised to carry more than 30 children.

But for kindergarten school buses, an attendant is required whatever the size of the size of the bus.

CHECK BUS

A spokesman from the Singapore School and Private Hire Bus Owners' Association also said that bus drivers should check their bus before leaving for a break.

According to the Land Transport Authority's website on the safety requirements for school buses, first-time offenders can be fined up to $1,000, or be jailed up to three months.

Repeat offenders can be fined a maximum of $2,000, or be jailed up to six months.

Children left in vehicles

Leaving young children unattended in vehicles can result in serious injury or even death. Here are some cases where negligence had tragic outcomes:

JUNE 18, 2014

A 33-year-old father left his 22-month old toddler in a car for about seven hours in Georgia, Atlanta, in the US.

He had forgotten to send his child, who was strapped in with the seat belt, to the child care centre when he left for work that morning.

It was only on his way home at around 4pm when he noticed his son in the back seat.

He immediately pulled over, but the child had died from heatstroke.

JUNE 16, 2014:

American Steven Lillie, 31, left his nine-month-old daughter in his pick-up truck for nearly four hours when he forgot to take her to her grandmother's before work.

He had parked his truck in the sun while at work.

Co-workers said his screams could be heard from the office when he discovered his unresponsive baby girl in the truck hours later.

AUG 16, 2012:

A Japanese woman, 45, left her five-month-old baby in her car for three hours while she played pachinko, a Japanese game that is a cross between pinball and slot machine.

He died of heat stroke.

The boy was in a baby seat in the back with the car's air conditioner turned off.