Days before Qatar’s largest water park is expected to reopen for the summer season, a Doha criminal court has heard new details about the case of a Palestinian boy who drowned there in 2012.
Three individuals and two companies have been charged with involuntary manslaughter following the child’s death, and are accused of recklessly failing to properly perform their duties at the Aqua Park, which is located some 40km from Doha.
The defendants include an administrative supervisor and two contractors – a lifeguard and a Doha Clinic paramedic.
The facility’s owner, Hala Co. for Projects Aqua Park, is also named as a defendant, as is Kuwait-based Al Jazeera Co. for Commercial Projects, which is contracted to manage the property.
All the defendants have pled not guilty. The first hearing took place last November and was followed by several sessions before this week’s hearing, during which the court heard new details about the boy’s death.
The park reopens for the 2015 summer season on Thursday, March 26. It first launched in 2010, and raised safety concerns that same year, when an 11-year-old boy reportedly broke a rib and injured a kidney after falling off one of the park’s attractions.
However, there have been no reports of serious injuries to visitors since the 2012 drowning incident.
During Sunday’s session, which the paramedic and representatives for the two companies failed to attend, witnesses and one of the defendants testified that several things went wrong the day the boy died on May 4, 2012.
The court heard that there was a shortage of lifeguards monitoring the pool, and questions were raised about the adequacy of Aqua Park’s first aid equipment and the training of its medical contractors.
However, the lifeguard defendant also said that it appeared that the young boy was playing near a pool intended for adults without parental supervision or wearing a required personal floatation device.
Responding to questions from a judge hearing the case, the lifeguard said four or five individuals usually keep an eye on the pool where the boy drowned.
But that day, which was a Friday, only two lifeguards were on duty, according to the defendant, who said he reported this information to his supervisor.
Aqua Park officials dispute this allegation, saying in 2012 in response to a lawsuit from the mother of the child that six lifeguards were on duty.
The lifeguards are not directly employed by Aqua Park, but rather work for a company named The Ninth Group that subcontracts its staff to the facility’s managers.
The lifeguard told the court that he saw the boy – who another witness estimated was between six and eight years old – earlier in the day sitting on the edge of the pool, playing with a ball with two young male adults.
A young woman who the lifeguard said appeared to be with the group was sitting at a snack bar.
Later in his shift, the lifeguard was walking around the pool when he spotted the boy underwater. He said he realized something was wrong when the boy didn’t flinch after being bumped by another swimmer.
The lifeguard said he jumped into the pool, pulled the boy out and rushed him to Aqua Park’s medical clinic. The boy began vomiting on his shirt as he was being carried, the lifeguard said.
The defendant added that he did not know what treatment the victim received from medical staff. He explained he immediately returned to his post at the short-staffed pool after handing the boy to a paramedic, who is also currently on trial.
During the rescue effort, an off-duty pediatrician from Hamad Medical Corp. who was visiting the Aqua Park with her family heard the commotion and rushed to the room where the boy was receiving treatment.
The doctor, who was called as a witness during this week’s hearing, said medical staff were incorrectly performing CPR on the boy, whose face and body had started to turn blue.
In her testimony, she did not identify who was providing the medical treatment or say what they were specifically doing wrong.
The doctor took over care and requested a piece of medical equipment to pump water out of the boy’s body. She said she was inexplicably brought an air pump used to inflate a tire or floating pool toy.
“Why would a place that caters to young children and pools not have equipment to deal with drowning?” she asked in court. “I was unpleasantly surprised to see that the place was not equipped to handle accidents like this,” she added.
The doctor said she spent 22 minutes massaging the boy’s heart while pressing down on his lungs to expel water from his body before an ambulance arrived.
She said that the boy showed no vital signs, but that it is standard practice to perform treatment for 35 straight minutes in such cases before concluding that a drowning victim has died.
Under questioning from the defense lawyer representing the paramedic who was working at Aqua Park, the doctor said the boy’s chances of survival largely depended on how long he spent underwater.
She also said the boy was only wearing a swimsuit in response to additional questions from the lawyer.
The issue of what the victim was wearing was raised again during the testimony of another witness, an Aqua Park administrative assistant who was at the facility with her family on her day off when the boy died.
Under questioning from the judge, the witness said there are regulations posted mandating that pool users wear appropriate attire. These rules extend to outfitting children with inflatable floatation devices, she added.
The woman also said the boy should have been accompanied by an adult at the larger pool in which he drowned.
“He should not have been there alone,” she said, adding it took “some time” to find the boy’s relatives at the water park. His sister was eventually located, the woman said.
She later disputed claims by the previous witness that the clinic lacked appropriate medical equipment.
However, she corroborated the earlier testimony that it took approximately 25 minutes for an ambulance to arrive.
The next hearing is scheduled to take place on April 19, when the court is expected to hear from the victim’s sister and the lifeguard’s supervisor.