Singapore – The Committee of Inquiry (COI) has discovered that the training accident which led to the death of Aloysius Pang in January was due to lapses of Pang and two other servicemen as they were handling a Singapore Self-Propelled Howitzer (SSPH).
Corporal First Class (National Service) Pang died during a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) training exercise in New Zealand after having sustained severe injuries when he had been crushed between the gun barrel and cabin of an SSPH. Pang and two other servicemen had been carrying out maintenance work when the incident occurred.
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, in a parliamentary ministerial statement on May 6 (Monday), said that the COI, comprised of five members who had interviewed more than 20 people involved in the tragic incident, found no evidence that linked the accident to foul play or deliberate acts.
During his statement, Dr Ng gave a detailed report of the events leading up to the accident, Pang’s injury and eventual death.
According to Dr Ng, one of the SSPHs’ gun had needed corrective maintenance on its accuracy which could not have been used for live firing unless resolved.
It was armament technician Aloysius Pang and a forward maintenance platoon member who had assisted the gun commander in the assignment. A regular technician had also been requested because Pang had not been able resolve the problem.
A plan to change the CPU card in the motor drive control unit–ammunition handling system (AHS) box was initiated to fix the fault.
The regular technician informed the gun commander that the AHS, engine and master switch needed to be turned off and the gun barrel locked. This meant that the gun barrel had to be lowered to a near-horizontal “standby” position.
Pang had not been in any of the safe positions within the confines of the SSPH when the gun barrel started moving towards a horizontal position. Specifically, he had had his back to the barrel when it started lowering.
According to a report by CNA, the regular technicianh had used a mix of Mandarin and English to inform Pang that the barrel was about to be lowered and advise Pang to move closer to a safer position. Pang had replied to say he was in a safe spot and that the barrel would not reach him.
The gun commander had also checked to see if the path of the gun barrel was clear and saw Pang obstructing the way; however, the gun commander had assumed that Pang would have had enough time to step aside because of the amount of time it would take for the gun barrel to be placed into standby position.
The gun commander had then shouted, “Standby, clear away,” and had activated the control. The regular technician and other personnel outside the cabin confirmed having heard the instruction.
Meanwhile, Pang had still had his back facing the gun barrel and had not attemptted to move away until the very last moment when he had tried evading the incoming machine.
The regular technician, who had been shocked at the scene unfolding before him, had tried to push the barrel away from Pang while the gun commander had tried stopping the barrel via the main control system.
Needless to say, both parties failed to press the emergency stop buttons located in the cabin.
Dr Ng noted that “As the gun barrel made contact with CFC (NS) Pang, the COI opined that instead of activating the emergency stop buttons, both the technician and the gun commander panicked and acted irrationally.”
According to the COI, there were certain factors such as a lack of clarity in the process of SSPH maintenance that had led to the incident. When the barrel was about to be moved, the gun commander would send an instruction; however, no acknowledgement was needed. The regular technician had also begun his inspection before the gun barrel was in a locked position, even though this is a safety requirement for SSPH technicians.
The COI also noted that both the regular technician and gun commander had miscalculated the size of the cabin, and the distance, and time it took for the rear end of the barrel to hit Pang. Their state of panic also led to their failure of pressing the emergency stop buttons.
Dr Ng said in his statement that “there was no mechanical fault with the gun that had directly caused the accident.”
“The incident, in this case, was not due to the serviceability of the SSPH.”
He also added that the medical response team had been adequate and “did not cause or contribute to the demise of corporal Pang.”
“The direct causes determined by the COI that resulted in the death of corporal Pang were preventable had there been compliance to safety rules,” he added.
“If the gun commander had ensured that Pang was in a safe position before activating the gun barrel to standby position, the incident would not have happened.”
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