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Following Corporal First Class (National Service) Aloysius Pang’s passing last week, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen will deliver a ministerial statement at the next parliamentary sitting to address the recent national service training deaths, said the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) on Wednesday (30 January).
The next parliament sitting is scheduled for 11 February at 1.30pm, according to a notice issued by the Clerk of Parliament on Monday.
CFC (NS) Pang, 28, an armament technician – together with another technician and a gun detachment commander – were called in to perform diagnosis on a suspected fault in the gun of a Singapore Self-Propelled Howitzer (SSPH) on 19 January during an exercise in New Zealand.
He suffered “crush” injuries to his chest and abdominal areas after being caught between the end of the lowering gun barrel and the interior of the SSSH.
Pang succumbed to his injuries last Wednesday, making him the fourth Singapore Armed Forces (SAF)-training related fatality reported in 16 months.
He was the first soldier to be injured due to the gun lowering for maintenance of the SSPH since its commission in 2003, said Mindef, adding that there were also no servicemen injured due to operating in or the firing of the howitzer.
Dr Ng had previously addressed Members of Parliament on the issue of training safety on 19 November last year when he spoke about the death of CFC Liu Kai in a written reply.
Liu, 22, was operating a Land Rover as part of a field training exercise when a Bionix armoured vehicle reversed into and mounted his vehicle, subsequently killing him. The Bionix vehicle was later revealed to be responding to simulated enemy fire.
In his Ministerial Statement in Parliament on 17 May last year, delivered in response to the deaths of 3rd Sergeant (3SG) Gavin Chan and CFC Dave Lee, Dr Ng noted that there had been an average of one NS training-related death a year over the past two decades.
He told the House that there were no training-related deaths from 2013 to 2016 and that zero fatalities can be achieved “with effort”.
“With these multiple layers of safety, and with experts within and outside assisting the SAF, we can move decisively to make zero training death the norm. I know it’s difficult but it must be done,” Dr Ng added.
Lee had died of heat injuries after participating in an 8km fast march on 30 April last year.
Chan was killed while participating in an overseas exercise on 15 September 2017, when a Bionix infantry fighting vehicle he was guiding out of difficult terrain landed on its side.
COI into Pang’s death
Mindef also said that a judge nominated by the State Courts will chair the five-member Committee of Inquiry (COI) looking into Pang’s death.
This is the first time a judge is appointed as chairperson for a COI. Serving or ex-judges have been included as persons eligible to chair the COI, since June last year, in addition to senior civil servants, it added.
The committee, convened last Friday by the Armed Forces Council, will include a consultant medical specialist, a member of the External Review Panel on SAF Safety (ERPSS), a member of the Workplace Safety and Health Council, and a senior-ranked national serviceman.
Mindef said that none of the COI members work within the ministry or are SAF regulars.
The COI has “full powers and access to material and witnesses” to investigate the circumstances leading to the death, determine the contributory factors and make recommendations to rectify any lapses uncovered to enhance the safety of training and operations, the ministry added.
The COI will submit its report in full to the ERPSS for comments, questions, and views, which will, in turn, provide a written report on the COI findings. The report will be made public, said Mindef.
“The well-being of servicemen is Mindef’s and the SAF’s topmost priority,” added the ministry.
COIs were also each convened to investigate the circumstances leading to the deaths of Liu, Chan, and Lee.
Pang, who was from the 268th Battalion Singapore Artillery, was one of more than 500 soldiers participating in Exercise Thunder Warrior in New Zealand when the incident involving the SSPH occurred.
The actor underwent three operations but his condition worsened. He was placed on artificial life support at the intensive care unit in Waikato Hospital, New Zealand, hours before succumbing to his injuries last Wednesday.
Following his death, top SAF commanders called for an army-wide safety timeout as well as a reduction in training tempo across the army, navy and the air force to assess safety protocols and plans in their units.
“The reduced training tempo will remain in place until the SAF is satisfied that training and other activities can be conducted safely. The SAF is committed to strengthening the safety culture on the ground,” said Mindef.
Hundreds of well-wishers, including veteran actors and former co-stars, attended his wake over the weekend. Pang was accorded a military funeral before being cremated at Mandai Crematorium last Sunday.
Dr Ng on the same evening changed his Facebook profile photo to that of a black ribbon, a symbol of mourning, to pay his final respects to Pang. He wrote, “A son of SAF, a son of Singapore is lost. We grieve and are deeply sorry.”
Pang’s ashes were scattered at sea near Pulau Ubin the next day, according to long-time mentor and manager Dasmond Koh on Facebook.