Sudden change in wind conditions contributed to Red Lions parachutist's hard landing at NDP: Ng Eng Hen
Third Warrant Officer Jeffrey Heng had assessed that his parachute canopy was “unstable” and executed the parachute landing fall technique according to protocol, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.
SINGAPORE: A sudden change in wind conditions during a Red Lions team member’s final approach contributed to his hard landing at the National Day Parade.
This was according to preliminary findings by a review committee convened to assess the cause of the incident and past near-misses and cases, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen in a written reply to a parliamentary question on Tuesday (Sep 13).
Third Warrant Officer (3WO) Jeffrey Heng had assessed that his parachute canopy was “unstable” and executed the parachute landing fall technique according to existing protocol, he added in his reply to Member of Parliament Don Wee (PAP-Chua Chu Kang).
“His actions mitigated the impact of the hard landing, and consequently he did not suffer severe injuries,” he said.
At the parade last month, 3WO Heng was the last of 10 parachutists to land at the Marina Bay floating platform. He skidded on the pavement and fell to the ground.
Dr Ng said previously that the parachutist did not require surgery following the incident, but rehabilitation would be needed.
On Tuesday, Mr Wee had asked whether the ministry will consider reviewing the safety measures and criteria for suitable conditions for military demonstrations such as free fall jumps and parachute landings.
He also asked if the defence ministry will consider limiting such exercises to training operations only.
In his reply, Dr Ng also said that the measured surface wind speeds during the Red Lion rehearsals and National Day Parade were within the acceptable range stipulated in the Singapore Armed Forces’ (SAF) safety regulations.
The review committee, which is led by the SAF Inspector-General Office, includes independent experts outside the SAF in sky diving and military freefall, he added.
“I have asked the committee why specific incidents like this have not occurred before, since changes in wind conditions cannot only have occurred for NDP 2022," he said.
"They are consulting the external experts on this specific question, as well as reviewing in detail the approach route taken by 3WO Heng."
Other issues that will be examined include the impact of eddy currents caused by the design of the Floating Platform, the stage and the spectator stands. An eddy is a whirl or circulation of air that is created when wind encounters a solid object.
“These findings will be relevant to the design and construction of the NS Square, which will be a permanent site for subsequent NDPs,” said Dr Ng.
RED LIONS A REGULAR FEATURE OF NDP
The Red Lions have been a regular feature of the National Day Parade since 1989, for 31 times over 34 years, said Dr Ng.
Of a total of about 3,400 individual parachute jumps, there have been four recorded injuries – a rate of 0.12 per cent.
“The safety record by our Red Lions during NDP is good and equivalent to that in regular military freefall training jumps - over the past five years, where the incident rate has also been about 0.1 per cent," he said.
As conditions during the National Day Parade pose tighter constraints due to challenging wind conditions and limited landing area, only experienced parachutists are selected as Red Lions for parade displays, said Dr Ng.
He added that parachutists must have made a minimum of 180 jumps to qualify for the selection tests.
Those who are selected will undergo continuous and rigorous training to maintain their skills and proficiency.
For jumps at the Floating Platform or HDB heartlands, landing sites are carefully selected. The areas must be flat and provide sufficient space. They must also be free from obstructions, and the wind conditions must be within safe thresholds, said Dr Ng.
There are also prescribed “No-Go Criteria” for jumps, which include prevailing visibility of the landing site by the parachutists, communications with the pilot and ground personnel, as well as acceptable weather and wind speed, the Defence Minister said in his reply.
Dr Ng also said that the committee reviewing the incident involving 3WO Heng is also looking into near-misses and incidents in the past.
The experts in the committee have been tasked to determine if there have been systemic changes such as stronger wind, other weather conditions or local environment which have increased the risks, Dr Ng said, adding that their findings will also have a bearing on routine training.
The committee is also examining possible measures to enhance safety, with an increase of the distance between parachutists among one of the changes being considered.
“This will provide the parachutists more reaction time as they approach the landing zone and enable the landing to be more spaced out,” said Dr Ng.
“The SAF’s priority is safety, and the Red Lions will continue to be a part of our NDP celebrations, only if safety can be ensured, with appropriate new measures, including those recommended by the review committee,” he added.