SINGAPORE: Aloysius Pang, the actor who died in a military training accident, was crushed between the gun barrel of a howitzer and its cabin after he was "unable to get out of the way" as the barrel was lowered.
This was revealed by Chief of Army Major-General (MG) Goh Si Hou at a press conference on Thursday (Jan 24).
Pang, 28, an armament technician with the 268th Battalion Singapore Artillery, was on reservist at the Waiouru Training Area in New Zealand as part of an annual Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) exercise called Exercise Thunder Warrior.
On Jan 19, he was tasked to repair a suspected fault in the gun barrel of a Singapore Self-Propelled Howitzer (SSPH). As Pang, another technician and a gun detachment commander were inside the howitzer cabin, the gun 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 MG Goh. “He was caught between the end of the gun barrel and the interior of the SSPH and he suffered crush injuries as a result.”
According to MG Goh, when the gun barrel is lowered, the space in the howitzer cabin is reduced. But the space is “typically sufficient” for artillery operators as well as technicians to operate, he said.
It takes about nine to 10 seconds for the gun barrel to be fully lowered, said Colonel (COL) Terry Tan, commander of the Combat Service Support and Command (CSSCOM).
When asked who lowered the gun barrel and if there were any lapses in safety procedures, MG Goh said this will be the focus of the investigation. It was “not appropriate” to go into details until the investigation is completed, he said.
READ: Aloysius Pang death: Our responsibility to ensure safety of our children, says Chief of Defence Force
PANG WAS “QUALIFIED, COMPETENT”: CSSCOM COMMANDER
Pang, who held the rank of Corporal First Class (National Service), was “qualified and competent” as an armament technician, said COL Tan.
Before an exercise of this scale, NSmen have to undergo a comprehensive training programme, he said. Maintenance crew members like Pang go through refresher training on equipment inspection as well as maintenance tasks such as demonstrations by trainers and hands-on training. Additional practical sessions on troubleshooting and common faults are also conducted, he said.
“All these are done with emphasis on training safety and precaution as they go about these maintenance tasks,” COL Tan said.
“Aloysius has undergone this refresher training and is qualified and competent to do his job in Exercise Thunder Warrior,” he added.
PANG WAS CONSCIOUS AFTER ACCIDENT
After he was injured, Pang was treated on site by an SAF doctor and his team, said Chief of Army Medical Officer Colonel Dr Lo Hong Yee.
"Immediately after the accident, actually, Aloysius was conscious. He was able to speak to the doctor as well as the medical team that was attending to him," COL Lo.
Pang was later evacuated to Waikato Hospital, a regional trauma centre where he underwent three operations. After the first two operations, Tan Tock Seng Hospital’s chief of trauma and acute care surgery Dr Teo Li Tserng said on Monday that Pang’s condition had stabilised.
He was awake and breathing on his own without any mechanical ventilation. COL Lo said Pang was also able to speak to his mother.
But Dr Teo and the New Zealand doctors were already expecting complications, COL Lo said.
"You cannot have a severely injured patient and not expect ... So they were already expecting complications. They just didn’t know when it will set in.
"When he started to deteriorate they knew that’s when the complications had started and that’s when the third surgery happened, and subsequently he was put on artificial life support."
Pang died on Wednesday, four days after the accident happened.
When asked about compensation for Pang's family, Secretary of the Armed Forces Council and director of manpower Lee Chung Wei said the SAF "follows the principles" of the civil courts as well as the Work Injury Compensation Act.
"In fact, in many cases, we are more generous than that. But due to confidential reasons, we do not speak about the specific compensation for the families. This is something we will only speak to the families about," he said.
The SAF is liaising with New Zealand authorities on repatriating Pang's body to Singapore, Mr Lee added.
MINDEF said on Wednesday that an independent Committee of Inquiry (COI) will be convened to investigate the circumstances leading to Pang's death.
In a statement on Friday, the New Zealand police said Pang's death was not being treated as suspicious.
"New Zealand police were notified of the death and a preliminary investigation was undertaken," said Detective Inspector Brent Matuku.
"The death is not being treated as suspicious and police offer their sympathies to the friends and family of Aloysius Pang Wei Chong."
Pang's death is the fourth military training-related death in the last 18 months.
On Sep 15, 2017, 21-year-old full-time national serviceman (NSF) Gavin Chan died after he was ejected from a Bionix infantry fighting vehicle at the Shoalwater Bay Training Area in Queensland, Australia.
On Apr 30 the following year, NSF Dave Lee, 19, died nearly two weeks after suffering a heatstroke following an 8km fast march.
COIs were convened in all three cases.