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Only three soldiers, including the late Singapore actor Aloysius Pang, were present in the cabin of an artillery gun that was being rectified on Jan 19 this year, and each of them committed safety lapses that eventually led to his death, an independent Committee of Inquiry has found.
Among the breaches committed by the three of them, including the gun commander and a regular technician, was the failure to follow a strict requirement that everyone must be in safe positions during the movement of the gun barrel.
The regular technician also did not ensure the gun barrel was locked before starting the maintenance work of replacing the interface card found in the cabin.
Revealing the findings of the COI in Parliament on Monday (May 6), Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said: “It is sad but undeniable that the direct cause determined by the COI that resulted in the death of CFC (NS) Pang was preventable had there been compliance to safety rules.
“It was not for lack of knowledge of these rules or inexperience of personnel working on the SSPH (Singapore Self-Propelled Howitzer) gun.”
The five-member COI, chaired by a State Courts-nominated judge, was set up on Jan 25 to investigate the circumstances of Corporal First Class (NS) Pang’s death after he sustained serious injury during a live firing exercise called Thunder Warrior in New Zealand.
His death on Jan 23 was the fourth reported since September 2017, following four preceding years of zero fatalities related to training and operations in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).
It had sparked a public outpouring of grief, and led to renewed criticism about training safety in the SAF.
Giving fresh details into the incident, Dr Ng said that when CFC (NS) Pang, 28, was asked to move out of the way of a gun barrel inside the SSPH, he declined and said that it would not hit him.
The gun commander saw that the actor, who was an armament technician on reservist duty, was still in its way but continued to lower the gun barrel, flouting safety rules.
CFC (NS) Pang initially made no attempt to move away, but started making some evasive movements as the barrel moved closer to him. The regular technician was shocked to see him still in the path of the gun, said Dr Ng.
When the barrel began to make contact with CFC (NS) Pang, the gun commander and a regular technician responded irrationally instead of pressing the emergency stop buttons.
The regular technician tried to stop the barrel with his hands, while the gun commander tried to do so using the main control screen, but their actions did not stop CFC (NS) Pang from being wedged between the barrel and cabin’s interior.
Although the gun commander with the rank of Third Sergeant had shouted “standby, clear away” and the regular technician had told CFC (NS) Pang to move away, both of them did not ensure that he was in a safe position before lowering the barrel.
The regular technician, who had been in service for more than 16 years, with eight years of working experience on the SSPH, also did not ensure that the gun barrel was in a locked position before starting maintenance work to replace the interface card in the box he was working on with CFC (NS) Pang.
Instead, the regular technician, who held the rank of Military Expert 2, had started to dismantle the mountings on the box even though the gun barrel was not in a locked or standby position.
Other than CFC (NS) Pang, the other two servicemen were not named.