SINGAPORE: Top officials from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) on Thursday (Jan 24) presented preliminary findings on how actor Aloysius Pang was injured and killed during a training exercise in New Zealand, in their first news conference since the accident.
The findings come ahead of a committee of inquiry convened to look into the circumstances surrounding the incident.
Here’s what has been established so far, in their own words:
HOW DID THE INCIDENT HAPPEN?
Chief of Army MG Goh Si Hou: Aloysius is an armament technician and he is trained to perform maintenance and repair for the Singapore Self-Propelled Howitzer.
At the time of the incident, Aloysius was with another technician and also a gun detachment commander. They were called in to perform diagnosis on a suspected fault in the gun.
So, as part of the rectification process, the gun barrel has to be lowered to standby position. As you can see from the picture, it appears from the initial findings that Aloysius was unable to get out of the way as the gun barrel was lowered. He was caught between the end of the gun barrel and the interior of the Singapore Self-Propelled Howitzer, and he suffered crush injuries as a result.
WHAT IS THE STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE WHEN THE GUN BARREL IS LOWERED?
Commander Combat Service and Support Command (CSSCOM) COL Terry Tan: First and foremost, the operator and the technician have to link up and discuss about the plan to repair. I think that is the most important. After the discussion, there will be a command that will be given to lower the barrel and then there will be a verbal warning that will be given, and the commander will check (the cabin is) clear before the button is pressed to lower the barrel.
WHO ELSE WAS IN THE CABIN WITH PANG?
COL Tan: Usually when we deploy technicians, they usually go in buddies. This is to make sure they can look after one another. In this case, there was only one (other) technician deployed inside the cabin to troubleshoot the fault, excluding Aloysius.
So altogether, there were two technicians and the commander of the gun inside the cabin - in total, three. There were no injuries to the other two.
WHAT REFRESHER TRAINING DO MAINTENANCE TECHNICIANS GET?
COL Tan: Before a major exercise, NSmen undergo a comprehensive training programme. Specific for the maintenance crew, NSmen go through refresher training on equipment inspection, as well as maintenance tasks - such as demonstration by trainers on how to perform maintenance tasks - before the servicemen conduct hands-on training. All these are done with emphasis on training safety and precaution as they go about these maintenance tasks.
Additional practical session on trouble shooting and common faults are also conducted.
Aloysius has undergone this refresher training and is qualified and competent to do his job in Exercise Thunder Warrior.
WAS THIS PANG'S FIRST TIME CONDUCTING REPAIR WORK?
COL Tan: This was not his first time - in fact this is his seventh in-camp training. He has done five high-key and two low-key (trainings). Prior to Exercise Thunder Warrior, he has attended a maintenance vocational refresher training. In fact, when he landed in New Zealand, he was given a just-in-time refresher training just before training started. So it is definitely not Aloysius’ first time maintaining the system.
HOW WAS PANG TREATED?
Chief Army Medical Officer COL Dr Edward Lo: When the accident happened, Aloysius was treated on site by the SAF doctor and his team, and after that he was evacuated by helicopter to Waikato Hospital, which is a tertiary hospital as well as a regional trauma centre.
At that facility, he underwent surgery as well as ICU care to treat the multiple injuries that he sustained during the incident.
Immediately after the accident, Aloysius was conscious. He was able to speak to the doctor as well as the medical team that was attending to him.
After the first surgery that took place the same night, the next morning - the next day, when Aloysius’ mother went to visit, he was still able to speak to his mother.
But given the extent of his injuries, his condition made a turn for the worse and it deteriorated.
Despite the additional surgery, and putting him on artificial life support, Aloysius eventually succumbed to his injuries.
WHAT IS BEING DONE IN THE WAKE OF THE INCIDENT?
MG Goh: I called for a safety call this morning with my army commanders as well as all my trainers - over 1,200 of them - I told all my commanders that this cannot be business as usual.
We are very sorry for every training death that happens at SAF. I have told them that we must do better and we must do our utmost to restore confidence in our training safety and to ensure the safety of all our soldiers.
I told my commanders that we will review our training tempo and the training activities that we have because we want to put a singular focus on training safety on the ground going forward.
If this means removing training activities, reducing training that we do in the meantime, we will do that.
READ: Aloysius Pang death: Our responsibility to ensure safety of our children, says Chief of Defence Force
Chief of Defence Force LG Melvyn Ong: Following the safety time-out, I’ve asked all the services in the SAF to come back to review their training tempo with a view to lowering their training tempo.
For how long? After the safety time-out, perhaps a month or two.
We will reduce our training tempo and review this across the SAF to focus on safety for all our NSFs and NSmen.
This will take the form of lowering the duration, intensity and frequency of existing training. (We may) take some things out to do training better at a more sustainable pace.
This reduction of training tempo following the safety timeout will be enforced for as long as it takes to get this right.
As the Chief of Army has said, it cannot be business as usual.
THERE HAVE BEEN FOUR SAF TRAINING FATALITIES IN THE PAST 18 MONTHS. WHAT DO YOU SAY TO PARENTS OF NS BOYS, SEEING ANOTHER TRAINING DEATH?
LG Ong: Our parents - we are all parents, many of us are - come to the BMT graduation parade, and I see the pride in their eyes when they see their children serving national service. Parents are proud of their children serving national service. But on the other hand, it is our responsibility to ensure the safety of their children. And we must ensure that parents are assured.
To the parents, I will say this: As a system, the SAF has put in place a good system. For all the incidents that have occurred, for all the findings ... and recommendations on how to improve the safety systems, we have fully brought them on board, be it in the areas of heat injuries or in the areas of vehicle safety.
I think we don't shirk away from this and we always want to be better.
And we have improved, in our system and the emphasis of the commanders especially in the army over the last couple of incidents. They've been going at it. And I think the safety system is in a better place.
But going forward, what we will do is lower the tempo.
I think first, you have to have the safety time-out, which the army has correctly done. Thereafter all services will come back on how they view the tempo of operations: It's too fast, too intense, too many things, too frequent.
From there, we will do a dedicated review of the training tempo and we will take a look at it holistically within each service and see what we can do to maybe lower the tempo so that they can focus more on safety and do things better, do things well, do things safely. They will come back to me on this one.
ARE THERE SYSTEMIC LAPSES THAT HAVEN'T BEEN DEALT WITH?
LG Ong: We have - ERPSS - an external review panel on SAF safety that we have. They've been formed to oversee the conduct of safety and systems reviews for MINDEF and the SAF. They have consistently ascertained that the systems are in place - and we listen to them. They've visited almost 14 SAF formations in their last cycle, and they actively go around and analyse various parts of the army and the SAF.
Interim progress reports will also be provided to MINDEF leadership from the ERPSS, so we are always in constant contact with them. But the system, I'd say, is largely in place.
But we can do better. Which is why are going to review the training tempo. I believe that once we lower the training tempo ... it'll give us more time to ascertain the optimum level of activity, the right emphasis and the right training activity level. I think this will put us in a much better state.