SINGAPORE — A Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) regular officer implicated in the death of a driver during a training exercise claimed trial on Thursday (18 March) to a charge of failing to ensure a safety distance between the Land Rover he was in and an armoured vehicle that reversed into it.
Captain Ong Lin Jie, 30, who held the appointment of platoon trainer, was part of the group of trainers from the Armour Unit Training Centre (AUTC) who were tasked to observe and provide feedback to participants during a simulated fire fighting exercise at the Tracked Vehicle Maneuver Area near Sungei Gedong Camp. The exercise was to be held over three days from 2 November 2018.
The exercise involved the Kaffir company deploying 11 Bionix infantry fighting vehicles against a platoon from the Jaguar Company as the opposition forces, which deployed three Bionix vehicles. Bionix vehicles are heavy armoured vehicles armed with either canons or auto grenade launchers and heavy machine guns.
As part of his role, Ong was assigned to move around the exercise ground to oversee matters and provide feedback to vehicle commanders. He was also to act as an arbiter to determine the outcome of the firefight and ensure that safety procedures were maintained.
To carry out his duties, Ong travelled around in a Land Rover driven by full-time national serviceman Corporal First Class Liu Kai. As the Vehicle Commander of the Land Rover, Ong was also tasked with Liu's safety. Liu, 22, was the only other person in the Land Rover.
However while trailing a Bionix vehicle on 3 November 2018, Ong is said to have failed to keep the stipulated 30-metre safety distance between his Land Rover and the Bionix. According to the charge sheet, Ong ordered Liu to overtake the Bionix when it was unsafe to do so, and without first communicating with the Bionix. At the time, there was a risk that the Bionix would open fire and execute an extrication drill by reversing. The reversing Bionix then mounted the driver’s side of the Land Rover, killing Liu's.
Liu was pronounced dead at the scene at 10.35am. An autopsy revealed that the cause of his death was traumatic asphyxia.
The court heard that on the day of the incident, shortly before the fatal incident, the Land Rover driven by Liu was following a Bionix driven by a platoon member from the Jaguar Company. As the Bionix neared a T-junction, it stopped as the armoured vehicle’s crew spotted another Bionix at another junction.
Similarly, Ong's Land Rover then came to a halt some 30 to 31m behind the Jaguar Company's Bionix. Ong did not know why the Bionix ahead had stopped. He later ordered Liu to overtake the Bionix.
Meanwhile, the Bionix had directed three rounds of fire at the opposing Bionix. As part of the extrication drill, the attacking Bionix was then ordered to reverse. By this time, Liu, in the process of overtaking, had come to a halt about 16 to 18m behind the Bionix as it heard the rounds fired. The Bionix then reversed into the Land Rover, pinning CFC Liu.
Taking the stand on Thursday was prosecution witness Captain Wan Hong Wee, an SAF regular and the conducting officer of the exercise, who testified that there were no specific rules on the overtaking of static armoured vehicles.
On the day of the exercise, Wan would roam around the exercise area, positioning himself in critical junctions where possible vehicle fights could occur.
Asked by Deputy Public Prosecutor Zhou Yihong the purpose of the 30m safety distance between vehicles, Wan said that the distance was meant to prevent collisions as it allowed enough reaction time for vehicle drivers.
DPP Zhou then asked if all soldiers are aware of this distance.
Wan said, “Yes they would be aware of it because this is always re-emphasised during the conduct of exercise where armoured vehicles are involved”, adding that soldiers would have been taught when they first underwent armoured vehicle training.
DPP Zhou asked what steps an overtaking vehicle should adhere to safely overtake an armoured vehicle. Wan replied, “There are no specific rules dictating how you overtake a vehicle. If you are overtaking a static armoured vehicle you need to ensure...2m space between your vehicle and static stationary armoured vehicle before you overtake."
In the event there was not a width of 2m in between both vehicles, the vehicle commander of a vehicle that is supposed to overtake had to "ground guide" the vehicle during this overtaking process, he added.
Wan said that he would have tried to contact the vehicle or vehicle commander in front of him by honking, waving or using communication tools, before overtaking. This was important so that he could ensure the vehicle in front would not be turning out or reversing during the overtaking, he added.
Asked by Ong’s lawyer, Teo Choo Kee, if there was a rule stating that one should contact the vehicle in front prior to overtaking, Wan said he was not aware of any such regulation.
The trial continues on Thursday afternoon.
If convicted of causing the death of a person through a rash act, Ong may be jailed up to five years, or fined, or both.
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