SINGAPORE: The incident that led to PTE Joshua Quek suffering a cervical spine injury during a static line parachute jump in Taiwan was the first such case resulting in serious injury, Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen said in a written parliamentary reply on Monday (Jan 6) to Workers' Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh.
Mr Singh had asked for the facts and interim findings surrounding the Dec 18 incident in Taiwan involving the 21-year-old full-time national serviceman.
In his reply, Dr Ng provided details of the incident:
On Dec 18 2019, PTE Joshua Quek Shou Jie, a 21-year-old full-time national serviceman, was taking part in a night static line parachute jump as part of his Basic Airborne Course in Taiwan.
This activity - which is part of standard airborne training conducted by militaries - sees jumpers’ parachutes attached to the aircraft by means of a cord called a ‘static line’.
When they jump out of the aircraft, this static line becomes taut, causing the parachutes to deploy automatically.
Such jumps are aimed at teaching servicemen the fundamentals of parachuting for combat deployment, Dr Ng said.
The SAF conducts about 6,000 static line parachute jumps every year and since its inception in 1974, approximately 27,000 trainees have graduated, the minister said in his response.
PTE Quek had completed the previous four static-line jumps successfully, Dr Ng said.
It was during his fifth and final jump for the course that the incident occurred.
According to the findings, as he exited the aircraft, PTE Quek faced "static line interference" where the static line swept across his neck.
This is a known risk for such jumps and occurs when the line is too slack, resulting in interference with the jumper's exit.
Preliminary findings suggest that the static line was not pulled taut as required and interfered with PTE Quek’s exit from the plane, resulting in the neck injury.
Detailed investigations are still being conducted to determine why this occurred and if PTE Quek received adequate supervision during his jump.
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Though PTE Quek was able to successfully land within the designated landing area, he sustained injuries to the neck during the jump.
He was attended to immediately by a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) medical officer, before being evacuated by ambulance to the nearest tertiary hospital.
At the hospital, a Magnetic Resource Imaging (MRI) showed a cervical spine injury.
PTE Quek’s family was informed of the incident on the night of the incident and his mother was flown to the hospital the next day. His father and brother joined him a few days after.
On Dec 19, PTE Quek went through a successful surgery to alleviate the pressure on his spine, with a second surgery two days later (Dec 21) to stabilise his cervical spine also completed without complications.
He is still in the Intensive Care Unit for observations.
His family was informed of the incident on the day it occurred, and his mother was flown to the hospital on Dec 19, Dr Ng said adding that his father and brother joined him a few days after.
SAF personnel are at the hospital to provide PTE Quek and his family with support, including medical, counselling and logistical help.
Dr Ng said the injury sustained by PTE Quek had caused neurological deficits, including weakness of his upper and lower limbs.
While he has partially recovered some of his motor functions since the second surgery, PTE Quek requires continued rehabilitation and physiotherapy for long term recovery and to reduce the damage from the injury.
"Currently, he is able to breathe on his own, conscious and alert and able to talk with his family," said Dr Ng.
BOARD OF INQUIRY
Dr Ng said in Parliament that a formal Board of Inquiry (BOI), supported by the SAF Inspector General’s Office (IGO), has been formed by the Army for a full investigation of this incident.
All static line parachute jumps have been suspended pending the board's findings.
The BOI is responsible for ascertaining the "detailed circumstances and possible contributory factors" for the incident.
"It will examine all existing safety processes and procedures, whether they were adhered to and recommend areas for review and enhancement where needed," said Dr Ng, adding static line parachute jumps will only resume when its recommendations have been implemented.