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SAF captain on trial over NSF's death, allegedly failed to keep safe distance with Bionix that crushed him

SAF captain on trial over NSF's death, allegedly failed to keep safe distance with Bionix that crushed him

SAF officers pay respects at the wake of the late NSF Liu Kai on Nov 5. (Photo: Jeremy Long)

SINGAPORE: A Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) captain in charge of a full-time national serviceman (NSF) who died after being pinned in a Land Rover by a Bionix vehicle went on trial on Thursday (Mar 18).

Ong Lin Jie, 30, is contesting one charge of doing a rash act not amounting to culpable homicide by failing to keep a safe distance of 30m between the two vehicles.

He is accused of ordering the 22-year-old victim, who was post-humously promoted to Corporal First Class (CFC), to overtake the Bionix Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) without first establishing communications with the Bionix and when it was unsafe to do so.

The wake of the late NSF Liu Kai, who died in a training incident on Nov 3. (Photo: Jeremy Long)

As a result, the Bionix - an armoured tracked vehicle armed with either a cannon or an automatic grenade launcher and heavy machine gun - reversed into the Land Rover, mounting the driver's side and pinning CFC Liu in his seat.

The court heard that CFC Liu was a Singapore permanent resident and a full-time national serviceman driver, while Ong was a regular officer holding the rank of captain and appointed as a platoon trainer with the Armour Unit Training Centre.

On Nov 2, 2018, the centre conducted a three-day exercise near Sungei Gedong Camp involving the Kaffir Company and Jaguar Company from the 42nd Battalion, Singapore Armoured Regiment.

The exercise was meant to train Kaffir Company's operational capabilities, and the company was tasked to advance towards and secure an objective known as the Murai Urban Training Facility.

The platoon from Jaguar Company acted as the "opposition force" for the exercise, and was to delay Kaffir Company's advance with a series of "delay lines" and simulated firefights.

Ong was attached to the exercise and assigned to the opposition force as a trainer, tasked with observing the performance and providing feedback to the exercise participants under his charge, including CFC Liu.

In order to move around the training area, Ong was assigned a Land Rover, and CFC Liu was the driver while Ong was the vehicle commander. They were the only two in the vehicle during the exercise and Ong was responsible for CFC Liu's safety - including ensuring and maintaining a safe distance of 30m between the vehicle and any Bionix IFV.

All the exercise participants were briefed before the three opposition force Bionix IFVs took up their positions along the first delay line at about 7am on Nov 3, 2018.

After a simulated firefight just before 10am, one of the Bionix IFVs was "destroyed", leaving only two Bionix IFVs for the "enemy" force.

THE BIONIX STOPPED IN FRONT OF THEM

One of these vehicles - labelled BX13 - was travelling towards a junction along the opposition force's next delay line when their crew spotted another Bionix IFV at a junction ahead and stopped.

Ong and CFC Liu stopped their Land Rover behind BX13 at a distance of 30m to 31m, and Ong did not know why BX13 had stopped before the junction, according to the statement of facts agreed on by both the prosecution and defence.

The leader of the opposition force, who was in BX13, contacted the Bionix IFV ahead of it to confirm if it was a friendly element.

He asked by radio: "I see your vehicle, your vehicle is in front of me, correct?" 

He received a reply: "I never see you."

READ: Death of NSF Liu Kai: Bionix that mounted Land Rover was reversing from 'simulated enemy fire'

At about this time, the BX13 crew spotted more Bionix IFVs at the same junction ahead, crossing from the left to right, and the opposition force leader realised that the vehicles ahead were from Kaffir Company.

After this radio exchange, Ong ordered CFC Liu to overtake BX13 on its left. He drove the Land Rover forward, which meant there was no longer the required safety distance of at least 30m between the Land Rover and BX13.

File photo of a Bionix vehicle.

BIONIX REVERSED INTO LAND ROVER AFTER "FIRING" ROUNDS AT "ENEMY"

Meanwhile, the crew in BX13 began "firing" rounds at the Bionix IFVs ahead of them as they realised they were from Kaffir Company forces. As part of the drill in such engagements, the driver of BX13 was ordered to reverse his Bionix IFV, and he did so.

When CFC Liu heard the three rounds being fired by BX13, he stopped the Land Rover in the middle of overtaking and was about 16m to 18m behind BX13.

The Bionix IFV mounted the driver's side of the Land Rover as it reversed, pinning CFC Liu in his seat. He was pronounced dead at the scene at 10.35am, with an autopsy certifying the cause of death as traumatic asphyxia.

In their opening address, Deputy Public Prosecutors Hay Hung Chun, Zhou Yihong, Angela Ang and Benedict Chan charged that Ong was responsible for ensuring CFC Liu's safety as he was the vehicle commander, but "failed to fulfil this basic obligation".

There was an "obvious risk" that the Bionix IFV in front would be engaged in a firefight and consequently execute an extrication drill, and to order CFC Liu to overtake was to place the Land Rover in an unsafe proximity to the Bionix IFV.

"It was this rash decision that led to the collision between the Bionix IFV and the Land Rover, and the deceased's untimely death," they said.

Ong, who has been suspended, is defended by lawyer Teo Choo Kee. The trial continues before District Judge Jasvender Kaur.

If convicted of a rash act not amounting to culpable homicide, Ong can be jailed for up to five years, fined, or both.

Others have been hauled to court over the incident, with three men fined in December 2019 for breaching the Official Secrets Act over leaked photos of the accident.

Source: CNA/ll(ac)
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