Fallen tree that killed woman at Botanic Gardens was decaying below ground level

This article is more than 12 months old

A 40m-tall tembusu tree that fell and pinned down an Indian national at Singapore Botanic Gardens earlier this year was decaying below ground level, a coroner's court heard on Tuesday (July 18).

Arborist Derek Yap, who examined the heritage tree of more than 270 years old after the incident and on three other occasions, felt that the tree's toppling in this case was "unpredictable".

He was testifying at an inquest into the death of Ms Radhika Angara, 38, regional digital marketing head for Asia-Pacific at MasterCard, who died from traumatic asphyxia with broken ribs at 5.17pm on Feb 11, about an hour after the tree fell on her.

Ms Angara was with her French husband Jerome Rouch-Sirech, 39, and their twins, aged one, at the Botanic Gardens near the Shaw Foundation Symphony Stage to attend an outdoor concert organised by the High Commission of Canada when tragedy struck.

Her husband and children were also injured that day.

Mr Yap, a former National Parks Board employee of 10 years, is a private consultant for trees at his firm Camphora.

He told the court that he gathered information from Google Maps in 2014 to look for actual signs that would suggest decay in the tree.

Based on visual inspections of the tree, he said he did not see any cracks or open cavities that would suggest a decay in the trunk.

According to him, at the point where the trunk broke, the decay was 70 per cent. This was 2m above the ground.

For this to happen, he said the decay probably started quite long ago, coming possibly from the root under the tree.

"Most likely, the root cut caused decay in the root which propagated in the trunk and worked itself upwards," he said.

The court heard that the tembusu tree was found to be "healthy" and had normal foliage colour at its last inspection conducted on Sept 29 last year.

Earlier, the investigation officer, Inspector Lim Hui Shan, said in her report that Ms Angara was carrying their son while Mr Rouch-Sirech was carrying their daughter when he heard a loud cracking sound out of the blue.

Mr Rouch-Sirech managed to avoid the impact of the fallen tree. He and some members of the public immediately rendered help and managed to remove Ms Angara from underneath the tree. She was unconscious and had facial injuries and open wounds on her head. Her son had abrasions on his limbs.

Mr Rouch-Sirech was given outpatient treatment with four days of medical leave. The children were warded at National University Hospital for observation and discharged the next day.

The court heard there were heavy showers a few days before Feb 11, and on the day of the incident, the winds were noted to be higher than any of the other days.

Insp Lim concluded in her report that before the incident, there were no visible signs that the tree had deteriorated or required further investigation, and that the tree's fall was not predicted.

Senior Counsel Chelva Rajah is holding a watching brief for the next of kin, while Senior Counsel Lok Vi Ming acts for NParks' insurers, First Capital.