NSF stable after injuring cervical spine during parachute training in Taiwan

In a photo taken on May 14, 2013, a string of parachutes bloom behind the C-130 Hercules.
In a photo taken on May 14, 2013, a string of parachutes bloom behind the C-130 Hercules.PHOTO: ST FILE

A Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) full-time national serviceman (NSF) sustained a cervical spine injury on Wednesday night during unilateral parachute training in Taiwan. His condition is stable after surgery, the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) said in a statement yesterday.

Private Joshua Quek Shou Jie, 21, was immediately evacuated to the nearest tertiary hospital, where he underwent surgery on Thursday morning.

It proceeded without complications and his condition is currently stable, added Mindef. Pte Quek is being monitored in the intensive care unit of the hospital and further treatment to stabilise the cervical spine injury is planned.

An orthopaedic specialist from Singapore has been flown there to help coordinate medical care. Mindef said Pte Quek's family were also flown there to visit him at the hospital.

Both parents have spoken with him, and he is conscious and lucid.

"The family have asked that their privacy be respected while Pte Quek undergoes further treatment for his recovery. The Ministry of Defence and the SAF will continue to render full support and assistance to the family," Mindef said.

It was not stated which unit Pte Quek is serving in, but the SAF commando unit - one of the army's elite units - conducts compulsory airborne training. Regulars can also take part in such training.

The cervical portion of the spine is located at the top part of the spinal cord, or the neck area.

Being closer to the brain and affecting a larger portion of the body, cervical spine injuries are typically the most severe of spinal cord injuries, and could lead to paralysis, according to medical websites.

 
 

The ministry added that the SAF has suspended the type of training Pte Quek was doing across the SAF, pending the outcome of investigations.

This is the first reported training incident since actor and operationally ready national serviceman Aloysius Pang died in January.

His death, after sustaining a serious injury during a live-firing exercise in New Zealand, followed three training fatalities involving full-time national servicemen since September 2017 and triggered public debate on training safety.

It also prompted a raft of changes in the SAF, including a move for the first time to lower its training tempo across all services, which involved lowering the duration, intensity and frequency of training to free up time and space to review the safety systems and processes.

Another change was the setting up of a high-level Inspector-General's Office that reported directly to the Chief of Defence Force. It has full authority to scrutinise and enforce safety processes and practices at all levels.

Safety advocates were also appointed in the units to emphasise safety and conduct checks, in a bid to entrench safety ownership so that soldiers will take care of themselves and their fellow soldiers.


Past SAF parachuting incidents

May 2009

An SAF commando died in a parachuting accident in the city of Bloemfontein, South Africa. First Warrant Officer Tan Poh Eng, 53, a parachute jump instructor from the Commando Training Institute, was part of a 51-member SAF team involved in freefall training.

A Mindef statement said he had "spiralled to the ground" after the rest of the team deployed their parachutes in conducting a formation jump from a Republic of Singapore Air Force C-130 aircraft.

He was then evacuated to a hospital but was pronounced dead just over an hour after he was found unconscious.

September 1990

Lieutenant Tan Teck Heng, 24, a regular with the SAF, suffered a spinal injury after an accident in New Zealand, where he was attending an advanced parachute training course.

Lt Tan had made a practice freefall jump over the Lake Taupo area. He and a New Zealander instructor injured themselves upon landing.

They were evacuated to the Waikato Hospital in Hamilton City. Lt Tan was reportedly warded in hospital where he was in a stable condition.

August 1990

Staff Sergeant Quek Chung Eng, 29, collided with another jumper during his practice freefall parachute jump over Sembawang Airbase. The regular serviceman had made his descent from a height of about 3,000m from a Skyvan aircraft, and sustained serious injuries.

The other jumper, Captain Koon Huat Kin, 27, from the First Commando Battalion, sustained only minor injuries.

Lim Min Zhang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 21, 2019, with the headline 'NSF stable after injuring cervical spine during parachute training in Taiwan'. Subscribe