SINGAPORE: Late actor Aloysius Pang was the first soldier to be injured due to gun lowering while operating the Singapore Self-Propelled Howitzer (SSPH), the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) said on Wednesday (Jan 30) in a media release clarifying the safety record of the artillery vehicle.
The 28-year-old actor was in New Zealand for Exercise Thunder Warrior, a live firing exercise involving the howitzer.
He suffered crush injuries when the gun barrel was lowered and he underwent a number of operations to treat his injuries, but he died days after the accident.
The SAF said the SSPH has been in operation for the last 15 years and had been used by more than 1,000 servicemen, NSmen and regulars.
“In the last 15 years of SSPH operations, there has not been any reported injury of servicemen due to the gun lowering for maintenance or operating in or firing of the SSPH,” MINDEF said in its statement.
MINDEF confirmed a Committee of Inquiry (COI) was convened on Jan 25 to investigate Pang's death, with a judge from the State Court as its chairman.
Other members of the COI panel include a consultant medical specialist, a member of the External Review Panel on SAF Safety, a member of the Workplace Safety and Health Council and a senior-ranked national serviceman.
None of the COI members work within MINDEF or are SAF regulars, the ministry said.
The incident in New Zealand was the fourth time in 18 months that a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) soldier had died while in training.
Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen is set to deliver a ministerial statement at the next parliamentary sitting in February to address the deaths.
The SSPH was developed by ST Engineering Land Systems and commissioned in 2003.
Operated by a crew of four, including the gun commander, charge loader, ammo loader and driver, each serviceman is given a safe zone within the turret, MINDEF said.
To lower the gun barrel, the gun commander has to make visual checks that the area surrounding the gun barrel is free from obstacles, and that the crew remain in safe operating positions.
He will then sound off “clear away” to warn the gun crew of the impending barrel movement and shout “standby” when the barrel is lowered, the statement explained.
In an emergency situation that requires the gun barrel or other moving parts to stop immediately, any of the servicemen, except the driver, can activate an emergency stop button.
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“In the event that the gun requires maintenance work during training and operations, a team of Army technicians will be activated onsite and takes charge of the SSPH,” the statement added.
“Given the diagnosis and maintenance works required, the Army technicians may require the assistance of the Gun Commander. Army technicians are also trained and required to abide by the same drills and safety protocols as the SSPH crew.”
Technicians undergoing in-camp training will also have to attend a training course to refresh their skills before being deployed.
“The trainees will be drilled on the theoretical and practical components included in the Maintenance Vocational Training (MVT) until they have been assessed to be competent to ensure that the technicians are proficient in performing the required maintenance tasks,” MINDEF said.
WHAT HAPPENED TO ALOYSIUS
Pang, an armament technician with the 268th Battalion Singapore Artillery, was tasked with repairing a suspected fault in the gun barrel of a SSPH on Jan 19.
As Pang, another technician and a gun commander were inside the cabin, the barrel was lowered to its standby position.
“It appears from the initial findings that Aloysius was unable to get out of the way as the gun barrel was lowered,” said Chief of Army Major General (MG) Goh Si Hou last Thursday.
“He was caught between the end of the gun barrel and the interior of the SSPH and he suffered crush injuries as a result.”
The actor, who held the rank of Corporal First Class (NS), was treated on site before being taken to Waikato Hospital.
After the first two operations, Tan Tock Seng Hospital’s chief of trauma and acute care surgery Dr Teo Li Tserng said that Pang’s condition had stabilised.
But Pang suffered complications, and on Jan 23 had to have another operation in the morning. He died later that night.
“The well-being of servicemen is MINDEF’s and the SAF’s topmost priority. The SAF has reduced the training tempo for commanders and soldiers to assess safety protocols and plans in their units,” MINDEF said on Wednesday.
“The reduced training tempo will remain in place until the SAF is satisfied that training and other activities can be conducted safely. The SAF is committed to strengthening the safety culture on the ground.”