Not the first time national servicemen die or injure in Waiouru training area in NZ

The body of CFC Aloysius Pang arrived back in Singapore yesterday (25 Jan) after leaving New Zealand. The body was carried back via a RSAF KC-135R aircraft and the plane landed at Paya Lebar Air Base at about 5.45pm. His family was there to receive the body.

Aloysius passed away on Wednesday (23 Jan) at the Waikato Hospital in New Zealand following a mishap during his reservist training at the Waiouru Training Area. Search on the Internet shows that this is not the first time a national serviceman has died during trainings at Waiouru.

In 1997, two NSFs, 3SG Ronnie Tan Han Chong and LCP Low Yin Tit also died during a routine training exercise at Waiouru. In addition, 12 other servicemen were also injured when a 155mm artillery shell exploded prematurely inside the barrel of a gun howitzer.

During the Commission of Inquiry (COI), it was found that the correct procedures had been strictly followed by the artillery unit involved, and there was no human error by any member of the unit. There was also no breach of any SAF training safety regulations.

The COI concluded that the most probable cause was a defective fuze that was attached to the 155mm shell which was loaded into the gun howitzer. The defective fuze had resulted in the premature explosion.

Fuzes came from a Chinese factory

After the incident, the batch of fuzes from which the defective fuze came was X-rayed and 1.3% of the fuzes were found to be defective. This defective batch of fuzes was supplied by the Chartered Ammunition Industries (now organized under ST Kinetics which is a subsidiary of ST Engineering).

It was later found out that CAI had contracted with a U.S. company, Island Ordnance Systems (IOS), for the supply of these fuzes and that IOS itself obtained the fuzes from a Chinese company, Xian Dong Fang Machinery Factory.

However, CAI did not inform MINDEF that the fuzes came from China. MINDEF only became aware that these fuzes were manufactured in China during the COI proceedings. At the time, Tony Tan was the Defence Minister.

MINDEF is responsible for ensuring that all types of ammunition and fuzes used in the SAF are safe. MINDEF said it does so by conducting acceptance testing of ammunition and fuzes either by itself or by reliable contractors.

In this case, MINDEF had engaged CAI to provide the SAF with the fuzes. In particular, CAI agreed to witness the acceptance tests for the fuzes, on behalf of MINDEF. However, CAI did not witness all the acceptance tests. CAI also did not check whether the factory in China was able to manufacture the fuzes according to the required military specifications.

After the COI, MINDEF said it would revamp the product acceptance process and stop buying any ammunition and fuzes from IOS or Xian Dong Fang Machinery Factory.

MINDEF also nominated various servicemen for appropriate awards in recognition of their “acts of bravery and professionalism” during the incident.

It’s not known if there would be any more training deaths at Waiouru in future – an unavoidable risk that has to be undertaken by any Singaporean sons serving his nation to protect the 5 over million population residing here.