UPDATE: This story has been amended to reflect more details from the press conference with the Liu family.
22-year-old Corporal First Class (CFC) Liu Kai was meant to celebrate his elder sister’s birthday on Saturday (3 November), but never made it home.
“3 November is my birthday, and we were expecting my brother to come home, but my birthday became the day of my brother’s death,” said his sister, the second eldest of three siblings. “It was very unfortunate.”
Her younger brother always made time to celebrate special occasions with his family, she added.
This year was no exception: his two sisters’ birthdays were both in early-November and his parents, who were back in China for a visit, had rushed back to Singapore in preparation to celebrate with the whole family on Saturday.
His father said wistfully, “He was very filial to his parents, mature and very close to his mother…His dream was to graduate from university – to be an engineer and contribute to society.”
The Mandarin-speaking duo, who both declined to be named, was addressing reporters at CFC Liu’s wake at a Housing Board block in Woodlands Crescent on Monday.
CFC Liu, a transport operator from the Singapore Armed Forces’ Transport Hub West, was operating a Land Rover as part of a field training exercise when a Bionix vehicle reversed into his vehicle at the Jalan Murai training area at around 10.10am on Saturday.
The full-time national serviceman (NSF) then lost consciousness and was attended to immediately by the on-site medic, said the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) in a media statement on Saturday evening.
CFC Liu succumbed to his injuries and was pronounced dead by medical officers at around 10.35am. He was posthumously promoted to CFC.
Following the accident, an army-wide safety timeout on training has been called to ensure all appropriate safety measures are in place.
“Police investigations are ongoing and an independent Committee of Inquiry will be convened to investigate the circumstances leading to the incident,” added Mindef.
A popular and enthusiastic boy
CFC Liu’s family remembered him as a warm hearted individual who was active in church and well-liked by his platoon mates. He had planned to take leave in order to go on a mission trip to northern Thailand in December, said his sister.
She added that he took great pride in being a soldier and was applying to become a Singapore citizen. The family, who are currently Singapore permanent residents and applying to be Singaporeans, have been living in Singapore for over ten years.
“He was always very proud of being a soldier. During training, he would not complain at all,” she added. “But he can no longer be a Singaporean…he wanted to be truly part of Singapore and to serve the country.”
Asked whether Mindef had given them an update on the cause of the incident, the sister said the family would refrain from commenting as the authorities are still investigating her brother’s death.
She also urged others not to speculate about the incident based on what was circulating on the Internet, unless an official statement from the family or MINDEF has been issued.
“As his sister, as his father, as his family, we are very proud that he was able to contribute to the country. So we believe that the Mindef Committee of Inquiry and the police will give us a fair account,” she added.
His sister called for Singaporeans to pay their final respects to her younger brother.
“I sincerely urge and hope for all Singaporeans to come and see (off) Liu Kai at his wake and cremation tomorrow. He sacrificed for Singapore – I strongly hope I can see you here.”
Third NS training-related death in recent months
CFC Liu’s passing is the third national service training-related death in 14 months.
CFC Dave Lee died of heat injuries after participating in an 8km fast march on 30 April.
Third Sergeant Gavin Chan was also killed while participating in an overseas exercise in Australia on 15 September last year, when a Bionix infantry fighting vehicle he was guiding out of difficult terrain landed on its side.
Separately, an SAF regular serviceman died in Brunei after he was hit by a falling tree branch on 9 October.
A full-time National Serviceman was found hanging from a rope in his office in Sembawang Air Base on 28 September while an off-duty SAF regular serviceman was found dead in his bunk at Nee Soon Camp on 28 July.
In his ministerial statement in Parliament on 17 May, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen noted that there had been an average of one national service training-related death a year over the past two decades.
He also pointed out that there were no NS-training deaths between 2013 and 2016 as well as shared that the External Review Panel looking into safety at the SAF will also be involved in the COI for all training-related deaths.
“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,” Ng had added.