SINGAPORE — The injury sustained by a full-time national serviceman during his static-line parachute training in Taiwan was the first such case since the course began in 1974.
Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Private (PTE) Joshua Quek Shou Jie, 21, was on his fifth and final parachute jump as part of a basic airborne course in Taiwan on the night of 18 December last year.
PTE Quek had completed the previous four jumps successfully in the days before, after successfully undergone the requisite pre-jump qualifications, training drills and safety briefs required for the activity.
As he exited the plane that night, the static line – a cord that attaches the jumper’s parachute to the aircraft – swept across his neck, causing injuries to his neck as he landed successfully within the designated landing area.
The incident, termed "static line interference", is a known risk for static-line parachute training and occurs when the line is too slack and interferes with the jumper's exit from the plane, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen on Monday (6 January) in a written parliamentary reply.
Dr Ng was responding to a question by Workers' Party chief and Aljunied GRC Member of Parliament Pritam Singh on the findings surrounding the “static line interference" incident.
To date, the SAF has graduated about 27,000 basic airborne course trainees and conducts about 6,000 static line parachute jumps every year.
Static line not taut
To ensure that such interference does not occur, established drills and safety protocols are given in the training manuals and safety regulations for both the jumper and the jump-master.
A qualified jump instructor is required to be on board the plane during all jumps, along with two qualified jump masters at the exit door to check that these measures and other safety aspects are adhered to.
“Preliminary findings suggest that the static line was not pulled taut as required and interfered with PTE Quek's exit from the plane causing a neck injury.
“Detailed investigations are underway to determine why this occurred and if adequate supervision was given during PTE Quek's jump,” Dr Ng said.
A formal Board of Inquiry, supported by the SAF Inspector General's Office, has been convened by the army to investigate the incident, he added.
“The Board of Inquiry will comprehensively ascertain 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.”
All static line parachute jumps have been suspended, pending the board’s findings, and will only resume when its recommendations have been implemented.
Following the incident, PTE Quek was attended to immediately by SAF's on-site medical officer, and later evacuated by the on-site ambulance to the nearest tertiary hospital.
Upon his arrival, a Magnetic Resource Imaging (MRI) scan revealed he had sustained a cervical spine injury and underwent surgery to relieve the pressure on his spine the next morning.
He underwent a second planned surgery two days later to stabilise his cervical spine.
The operation was successfully completed without complications and PTE Quek remains in the Intensive Care Unit for close observations, said Dr Ng.
PTE Quek’s condition
The injury had resulted in neurological deficits including weakness of his upper and lower limbs.
While PTE Quek has experienced some partial recovery of motor functions since the second surgery, he will require continued rehabilitation and physiotherapy for long term recovery as well as to reduce the damage from the injury, he added.
PTE Quek is currently able to breathe on his own, conscious and alert and able to talk with his family, who was informed of the incident on the night it occurred.
His mother was flown to the hospital the next day, with his father and brother flying in a few days after, Dr Ng added.
“SAF personnel are also on site to provide PTE Quek and his family medical, counselling, logistical and other forms of support,” he said.
A team of SAF doctors is working closely with the specialists at the hospital to monitor and assess PTE Quek's condition.
“While his condition is stable now, the medical opinion is that he stills needs close monitoring over the next few weeks. He will be brought back to Singapore when the specialists deem it safe to fly,” said Dr Ng.
“All of us, of course, wish PTE Quek a continuous and progressive recovery. Our prayers and hopes are with him and his family. Mindef and SAF will continue to extend our full support to PTE Quek and his family on his road to recovery.”