Judge to chair COI looking into actor Aloysius Pang's death

Defence Minister will also deliver statement in Parliament on recent NS training deaths

A Committee of Inquiry (COI), chaired for the first time by a State Court-nominated judge, was convened last Friday to look into the circumstances leading to the death of Singapore actor Aloysius Pang while he was on reservist duty, the Defence Ministry (Mindef) said yesterday.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen will also deliver a ministerial statement addressing recent national service training deaths when Parliament next sits on Feb 11.

Since June last year, Mindef has included serving or former judges as people eligible to chair the COI, in addition to senior civil servants.

While the statement did not name the members, the ministry said the other members of the independent COI are a consultant medical specialist, a member of the External Review Panel on Singapore Armed Forces Safety (ERPSS), a member of the Workplace Safety and Health Council, and a senior-ranked national serviceman.

None of the members works within Mindef or is a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) regular, it added.

Corporal First Class (NS) Pang was doing repair work inside a Singapore Self-Propelled Howitzer (SSPH) during an annual live-firing exercise in New Zealand on Jan 19 when he sustained a serious injury that led to his death four days later.

The operationally ready national serviceman (NSman) was an armament technician from the 268th Battalion, Singapore Artillery. His death is the fifth reported since September 2017, following four preceding years of zero training-and operations-related fatalities.

The COI, whose findings will be made public, has full powers and access to material and witnesses to investigate the circumstances leading to the death. It will also determine the contributory factors and make recommendations to rectify any lapses uncovered. The COI, convened by the Armed Forces Council last Friday, will submit its full report to the ERPSS for comments.

 
 
 
 

The ministry yesterday also provided details of the safety record for the SSPH and the standard operating procedures required of its operating and maintenance crew.

It said that in the last 15 years of SSPH operations, there has not been any reported injury of servicemen due to the gun being lowered for maintenance, or when operating in or firing the SSPH.

In the same period, more than 1,000 full-time servicemen, NSmen and regulars have been trained to operate the SSPH, with around 12,500 rounds fired.

The Chief of Army, Major-General Goh Si Hou, said at a press conference last Thursday that Mr Pang was in the SSPH cabin with two other servicemen - another technician and a gun detachment commander - when the incident happened.

Initial findings showed that he suffered crush injuries when he was unable to get out of the gun barrel's way as it was lowered. When maintenance work is required during training and operations, a team of technicians is activated and they take charge of the SSPH.

According to the ministry, the technicians may require the assistance of the gun commander. The army technicians are also trained and required to abide by the same drills and safety protocols as the four-man crew operating the SSPH.

Mindef said the SAF has reduced the training tempo for commanders and soldiers 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," it added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 31, 2019, with the headline 'Judge to chair COI looking into actor's death'. Print Edition | Subscribe