A Lifesaving Mission that Transcends Borders (Part 1)

March 10, 2023

The OLH Contingent to Turkey[From left to right] WO1 Fendilato Bin Mohamad Tahir, DART Section Commander, WO1 Muhammad Faris Bin Mohammad, DART Specialist, CPT Joel Ee, Search Platoon Commander (K-9 unit), LTC Lok Wee Keong, SCDF Operation Lionheart (OLH) Deputy Commander/Commander DART, COL Chew Keng Tok, SCDF OLH Contingent Commander/Commander 2nd SCDF Division, LTC Mohamed Nazim Bin Kudin, SCDF OLH Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Coordinator, LTA Abdul Rashid Bin Abdul Karim, Deputy Rescue Commander, DART, and SGT3 Tamimi Bin Mohamad Mamsi, Rescue Specialist, DART.

Source: The Straits Times / Chong Jun Liang


The Operation Lionheart (OLH) contingent, comprising 68 members and led by COL Chew Keng Tok, Commander of 2nd SCDF Division, returned to Singapore on 18 February 2023, after a 10-day deployment in Kahramanmaraş, Türkiye. The team was deployed to assist in the rescue efforts, following the Türkiye-Syria earthquake on 6 February 2023.

Rescue995 spoke to four members of the OLH contingent, who recounted their experiences on the rescue of a child and a man in Kahramanmaraş province, Türkiye. They are LTA Abdul Rashid Bin Abdul Karim, WO1 Fendilato Bin Mohamad Tahir, WO1 Muhammad Faris Bin Mohammad and SGT3 Tamimi Bin Mohamad Mamsi.


Rescue995: It must have been quite challenging for your families when you had to be deployed to Türkiye on such short notice. What preparations did you make before your departure for Türkiye and how did your loved ones support you during your time away?

LTA Abdul Rashid: I could sense that my family members were a bit worried, but they tried not to show it. My wife assured me that she would manage the household, with some help from my in-laws who lived nearby. This gave me peace of mind and allowed me to fully concentrate on the mission ahead.

WO1 Muhammad Faris: I received a lot of love and support from my family members throughout my deployment in Türkiye. My wife adapted well to the adjustments in our daily home routine, ensuring that the children’s needs were well taken care of.

WO1 Fendilato: My four boys were proud when they heard that I would be deployed overseas! My parents, who live in the same block, helped to look after my boys when I was away. Together, they reassured me that all will be well at home and encouraged me to focus on the task ahead in helping the people of Türkiye.


First Rescue

Rescue995: On 8 February 2023, when conducting search and rescue operations in cold weather conditions, your team successfully rescued a boy from a collapsed three-story building. Could you describe the rescue in detail?

LTA Abdul Rashid: Upon our arrival at the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) centre in Kahramanmaras, we received information on a possible survivor at a collapsed house. At the site, we discovered that a family of eight were on the second floor of a three-storey building when it collapsed during the earthquake. While two of the family members had been found the day before, six others were still unaccounted for. Rescuers on-site could hear voices from underneath the rubble but could not pinpoint the exact location from where the sound was coming from. Our team immediately sprang into action, deploying our fibre-optic scope to detect possible signs of life beneath the rubble. When we saw a carpet 'moving’ amongst the debris, we knew that there might be a survivor and initiated breaking operations.

LTA Abdul Rashid describing the terrain of the rescue site and how the rescue was conductedLTA Abdul Rashid describing the terrain of the rescue site and how the rescue was conducted


SGT3 Tamimi: Using our breaking equipment, we managed to gain access to a small void, where there was a possibility of finding survivors. While it was not easy to manoeuvre within the void due to the debris, I was confident of doing so, as I have trained for this before. Equipped with a headlamp and a handheld light, I entered the void, leg first. After clearing some debris, I found a boy intertwined in a carpet and mattress. Although he did not respond to me, I detected a faint pulse at his neck. Just as we decided to widen the exit to safely extricate the boy, he opened his eyes and eagerly crawled out on his own, surprising us. We protected him from sharp debris on the way out and he promptly received medical attention.


The SCDF team, a Spanish team and a local team using cutting and breaking equipment at the siteThe SCDF team, a Spanish team and a local team using cutting and breaking equipment at the site


Rescue995: Can you walk us through the challenges that your team encountered at the disaster site, particularly during the rescue of the child? How did your team manage to overcome these challenges?

LTA Abdul Rashid: In a collapsed structure, it is difficult to predict what you will encounter under the rubble. During the breaking operations, we came across building columns, large pipes, furniture and even refrigerators, which made it challenging for us to break through. After doing breaking at three different spots, we finally accessed the void to reach the boy. As these voids are very confined spaces and full of debris, we needed to remove obstacles such as bed frames, electrical appliances and mattresses before we could advance further. Due to the aftershocks, we could not entirely rule out the possibility of a secondary collapse.

SGT3 Tamimi: Communication with the locals was not always easy as language was a barrier. Fortunately, an interpreter was assigned to us upon our arrival at Adana airport. With his help, we were able to get useful information from the locals, such as the layout of the collapsed buildings and the likely location of survivors. Although we did not speak a common language with some of the other rescue teams, we managed to work well with them on various aspects of the rescue, including forming a human chain to manually remove debris from the void. I guess when rescuers are rescuing people, we are able to understand each other as we work together with the common mission of saving lives.


SGT TamimiThis was SGT3 Tamimi’s first deployment overseas. The widespread devastation he witnessed and the satisfaction of rescuing the boy, left a lasting impression on him.


Second Rescue

Rescue995: Could you share more about your experience during the second rescue on 9 February, in which the team successfully rescued a man from a collapsed two-storey building?

WO1 Muhammad Faris: Our team, led by LTA Rashid, was deployed to assist in the search and rescue at this collapsed building. After assessing the situation, we deployed our fibre-optic scope to search for survivors.

WO1 Fendilato: The Local Emergency Management Authority (LEMA) informed us that they may have a live victim trapped behind a wall.

WO1 Muhammad Faris: We manoeuvred the fibre-optic scope through a small opening in the debris, while calling out for a response.

WO1 Fendilato: We did spend quite some time calling out for a response...

WO1 Muhammad Faris: When we saw the man in our scope, he responded by turning his head and we could see his eyes very clearly. We were ecstatic! From there, we pinpointed his exact location and promptly updated LTA Rashid.

WO1 Fendilato: After discovering the trapped man, we readied ourselves for the rescue, while LTA Rashid alerted the local authorities. Together, we extricated the man from the rubble and conveyed him to the nearest hospital for medical assistance.


WO1 Muhammad Faris (left) recounting the rescue of the man WO1 Muhammad Faris (left) recounting the rescue of the man


Rescue 995: What were the challenges that your team encountered during the rescue of the trapped man, and how did you manage to overcome them?

WO1 Muhammad Faris: The stability of the building was a serious concern as the building structures were weakened due to the earthquake and due to the extensive destruction, there was insufficient shoring equipment to stabilise all the structures. As the rescue of the man was a top priority, we worked out a plan with the Turkish rescuers, with LTA Rashid sharing his professional advice with them. With the coordination from both teams, the man was extricated within two hours.


LEMA and SCDF officer trying to make contact with the man trapped behind the large concrete slabLEMA and SCDF officer trying to make contact with the man trapped behind the large concrete slab


WO1 Fendilato: I was squeezing myself through the tiniest space imaginable! When I attempted to manipulate the lens handle of the scope, fragments of concrete crumbled onto my face. Despite my focus on finding the survivor, I was always aware of my egress route and maintained constant contact with WO1 Faris. Sure, there were risks, but they were minimised with the proper precautions taken during the rescue and always ensuring the safety of the team.


WO1 Fendilato (right) described how he had to crawl through the tiny space in his attempt to rescue the man from the rubbleWO1 Fendilato (right) described how he had to crawl through the tiny space in his attempt to rescue the man from the rubble


LTA Abdul Rashid: This rescue site might be one of the most dangerous places that I have worked in. Imagine being in a small, dark room with a wall inclined at a 45-degree angle above your head, with the possibility of collapse. During the rescue operation, I reiterated the need to minimise the number of personnel working in the area and to keep the egress point clear at all times as this will facilitate our quick exit out of the risk, if necessary.  I knew that we had to work quickly, but safely. We worked well with LEMA and safely extricated the man.


Thought and Reflections

Rescue995: Now that you are back in Singapore, what are your thoughts and reflections on the deployment? How has this experience impacted you?

LTA Abdul Rashid: Our capabilities, equipment and training in search and rescue were put to good use. By staying up to date with new technologies, we maintained our edge in urban search and rescue operations.

SGT3 Tamimi: As this is my first overseas rescue operation, I never expected to see widespread devastation on such a scale. While the risks were carefully managed, they were still very real, as we could feel aftershocks at our base of operations. I am grateful for this opportunity to be in this team, providing aid to the people of Türkiye in their hour of need. This experience reminds us that continuously improving our skills and keeping abreast with the latest developments in urban search and rescue methodologies, is crucial preparation for future international missions.

WO1 Fendilato: Over the years, our training in SCDF has prepared us for catastrophic events such as this. We are pleased to be of assistance to the people of Türkiye and we sincerely hope that the victims and their loved ones will recover from this disaster. As LTC Nazim had mentioned during a post operations debriefing session, 'We were not here to compete with others or to make a name for ourselves. We were here to do our best to help those in need.' His words inspired me throughout the mission.


Do look out for the second part of our feature story, as Rescue995 speaks to the OLH Contingent Commander, COL Chew Keng Tok and the psychologists in the contingent.