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Lim Min Zhang
The Straits Times
Sept 13, 2022
A sudden change in wind conditions during Red Lions parachutist Jeffrey Heng's final approach contributed to his hard landing at the National Day Parade (NDP).
This was the preliminary assessment by a review committee that was convened to assess the causes of the incident on Aug 9, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen in a written parliamentary reply.
Third Warrant Officer (3WO) Heng had assessed that his parachute canopy was unstable, and executed a landing fall technique in accordance with existing protocol, he said on Tuesday.
"His actions mitigated the impact of the hard landing, and consequently he did not suffer severe injuries," said Dr Ng in response to questions by Mr Don Wee (Chua Chu Kang GRC), who asked if the Ministry of Defence would consider limiting free-fall jumps to training operations.
Another finding so far was how the measured surface wind speeds during the Red Lions' rehearsals and NDP 2022 were within the acceptable range stipulated in the Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF) safety regulations, he said.
3WO Heng was the last of 10 Red Lions parachutists to land during this year's NDP at the Marina Bay floating platform. He was stretchered off but did not require surgery, and a full recovery was expected, said Dr Ng previously.
The review committee, led by the SAF Inspector-General's Office, was convened to assess the causes of the specific incident, as well as review near-misses and incidents in the past, said Dr Ng.
It includes independent experts in sky diving and military free falls outside the SAF.
The committee has been tasked to determine if systemic changes such as stronger winds, other weather conditions or the local environment have increased the risks, said Dr Ng, adding that the findings will have a bearing on routine training.
The committee is studying possible measures, such as increasing the distance between parachutists, he said. This will give the parachutists more reaction time as they approach the landing zone and enable the landings to be more spaced out.
The Red Lions will continue to be part of NDP celebrations only if safety can be ensured, he said.
3WO Heng is a member of the Red Lions, who have been a regular feature of the NDP since 1989, for 31 times over 34 years, said Dr Ng.
Of a total of about 3,400 individual parachute jumps, four injuries have been recorded - a rate of 0.12 per cent, he said.
"The safety record by our Red Lions during NDP is good and equivalent to that in regular military free-fall training jumps over the past five years, where the incident rate has also been about 0.1 per cent."
With conditions during NDP posing tighter constraints - due to challenging wind conditions and limited landing area, among other factors - only experienced parachutists are selected as Red Lions for NDP displays, said Dr Ng.
Parachutists must have made a minimum of 180 jumps to qualify for the selection tests. After they are selected for the team, they will undergo continual and rigorous training to maintain their skills and proficiency. Red Lions selected for recent NDPs have each clocked an average of 400 to 500 jumps with 20 years of jump experience, he said.
Other safety measures include the careful selection of landing sites. They must be flat, provide sufficient space and are free from obstructions, with wind conditions within safe thresholds, said Dr Ng.
Plans are developed to identify potential risks and design mitigating measures. Briefings are conducted for all those involved before live jumps, covering pre-op drills and emergency procedures.
“No-go” criteria for jumps include prevailing visibility of the landing site by the parachutists, communication with the pilot and ground personnel, as well as acceptable weather and wind speed. Each factor is closely monitored in the lead-up to the actual jump, said Dr Ng.
“If any factor exceeds the stipulated thresholds, the jump will be cancelled without hesitation,” he said.
This happened during the 2015 NDP, when the Red Lions segment was cancelled due to low clouds obstructing the visibility of the landing sites.
A planned jump on Aug 7 this year in Ghim Moh was also postponed to the evening due to weather conditions.
Among the issues being examined by the review committee is the impact of eddy currents caused by the design of the floating platform, the stage and spectator stands, said Dr Ng.
These findings will be relevant to the design and construction of NS Square, which will be a permanent site for future NDPs, he said.