NSF suffers cervical spine injury during SAF parachute training in Taiwan, now in stable condition

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

SINGAPORE - A Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) full-time national serviceman sustained a cervical spine injury on Wednesday night during unilateral parachute training conducted in Taiwan, but his condition is stable after surgery, said the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) in a statement on Friday (Dec 20).

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 in a Taiwan hospital and further treatment to stabilise the cervical spine injury is planned.

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

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

"The family has 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 portion of the spinal cord, or the neck area.

Being closer to the brain and affecting a larger portion of the body, cervical spinal cord injuries are typically the most severe of spinal cord injury, 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 was the latest following 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.

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