SINGAPORE: The accident that led to NS reservist and actor Aloysius Pang’s death was the result of safety lapses by Pang and the other personnel who were with him in a Singapore Self-Propelled Howitzer (SSPH) at the time, a committee of inquiry (COI) has determined.
Pang was crushed by the gun barrel of the SSPH that he was working in, during Exercise Thunder Warrior at Waiouru Training Area in New Zealand. He died of his injuries days later.
Here is a reconstruction of the events leading to Pang’s death, based on the COI findings presented by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen in his ministerial statement to Parliament on Monday (May 6).
It was evening on Jan 19 at Waiouru Military Training Area in New Zealand, where Singapore Armed Forces troops were training in Exercise Thunder Warrior.
One of the Singapore Self-Propelled Howitzers (SSPH) needed corrective maintenance on the accuracy of its gun, and it had to be rectified before live firing could resume.
The gun commander asked for assistance from the forward maintenance platoon, and armament technician Aloysius Pang responded to the call.
Pang could not resolve the issue, and a regular technician was sent to help him.
To rectify the fault, they planned to change a CPU card in the motor drive control unit – ammunition handling system (AHS) box in the SSPH.
The regular technician briefed the gun commander to turn off the AHS, lock the gun barrel and turn off the engine and master switch.
Locking the barrel required it to be lowered to the near-horizontal “standby” position.
Standing in one of the designated “safe positions”, the regular technician started loosening the screws on the AHS box. He saw that Pang was also removing screws on the right side of the box.
However, Pang was not in any of the safe positions, and was standing with his back facing the barrel.
The regular technician told Pang, in a mix of Mandarin and English, that the barrel was going to be moved to the standby position. He also told Pang to move closer to him or to a safe position.
Replying in Mandarin, Pang said that it was fine and that the barrel would not hit him.
Before moving the barrel, the gun commander said he checked if the path was clear and saw Pang standing near the barrel.
As the gun barrel was in the highest elevated position, the gun commander assumed that Pang would have time to move away, given that it would take some time for the barrel to move into the standby position.
He shouted “Standby, clear away”, before activating the control to move the gun. The regular technician says he heard the instruction, as did personnel who were standing outside the cabin.
As the barrel was lowered and the flick rammer started moving up, Pang continued removing the screws on the box while looking back at the barrel.
Initially, Pang made no attempt to move away. But as the barrel moved closer, he began making some evasive movements, the gun commander said.
Shocked to see Pang still in the path of the barrel, the regular technician tried to push against the barrel with his hands.
The gun commander also tried to stop the barrel using the main control screen.
However, neither of them pressed the emergency buttons that could have stopped the gun barrel from moving.
“As the gun barrel made contact with CFC (NS) Pang, the COI opined that instead of activating the emergency stop buttons, both the technician and the gun commander panicked and acted irrationally,” Dr Ng said.
As a result, Pang was crushed between the flick rammer and the slew ring, a cylindrical structure surrounding the cabin.
A battery medic attended to Pang on site. He was taken to the battalion casualty station about 10 minutes later, at 7.10pm. There, he was assessed and stabilised before being taken to the Waiouru Base Medical Centre at 7.50pm.
At 9.50pm, he was evacuated by helicopter to Waikato Hospital, where he was operated on at around 1am the following day, Jan 20.
Pang underwent two more surgeries on Jan 21 and 22 before his condition deteriorated.
On Jan 24, Pang succumbed to his injuries. The committee of inquiry recorded that he died from “severe sepsis arising from his severe chest and abdominal injuries as a result of being trapped between the flick rammer and the slew ring in the SSPH".