SINGAPORE — The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is examining possible measures to enhance safety in military demonstrations at the National Day Parade (NDP), following the injury suffered by a Red Lion parachutist at this year's parade at The Float@Marina Bay.
Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen added on Tuesday (13 September) in a written response to a Parliamentary question by Chua Chu Kang GRC Member of Parliament Don Wee that the hard landing that injured Third Warrant Officer (3WO) Jeffrey Heng was caused by a sudden change in wind direction during his final approach.
The measured surface wind speeds during the parade were within the acceptable range stipulated in the SAF's safety regulations.
"3WO Heng had assessed that his parachute canopy was unstable, and executed the 'parachute landing fall' technique in accordance with existing protocol. His actions mitigated the impact of the hard landing, and consequently he did not suffer severe injuries," Dr Ng wrote in his reply.
A review committee led by the SAF Inspector-General Office (IGO) has been convened to assess the causes of the incident, as well as review near-misses and incidents in the past. It has also been tasked to determine if there have been systemic changes such as stronger wind, other weather conditions or local environment which have increased the risks.
The committee is also examining possible measures to enhance safety. One change being considered is increasing the distance between parachutists, to give them more reaction time as they approach the landing zone.
"I have asked the committee why specific incidents like this has not occurred before, since changes in wind conditions cannot only have occurred for NDP 2022. They are consulting the external experts on this specific question, as well as reviewing in detail the approach route taken by 3WO Heng," Dr Ng wrote.
"Other issues to be examined include the impact of eddy currents caused by the design of the Floating Platform, the stage and the spectator stands. These findings will be relevant to the design and construction of the NS Square, which will be a permanent site for subsequent NDPs."
4 recorded injuries out of 3,400-odd jumps
Dr Ng said that the Red Lions parachuting displays have been a regular feature of the NDP since 1989 - 31 times over 34 years. Of a total of about 3,400 individual parachute jumps for the performances, there have been four recorded injuries – a rate of 0.12 per cent.
He added that the safety record by the Red Lions during NDP is equivalent to that in regular military free-fall training jumps, where the incident rate has also been about 0.1 per cent over the past five years.
Nonetheless, conditions during NDP pose tighter constraints due to factors such as challenging wind conditions and limited landing area. As such, only experienced parachutists are selected - Red Lions selected for recent NDPs have clocked an average of 400 to 500 jumps, and have around 20 years of jump experience each.
Dr Ng wrote that landing sites for jumps at the Floating Platform or HDB Heartlands are carefully selected. They must be flat, provide sufficient space and be free from obstructions, and have wind conditions within safe thresholds.
A safety management plan is also developed to identity potential risks and design mitigating measures. There are also clearly-prescribed "no-go criteria" for jumps, such as the prevailing visibility of the landing site by the parachutists, communications with the pilot and ground personnel, as well as acceptable weather and wind speed.
Dr Ng said that each factor is closely monitored leading up to the actual jump, and if any factor exceeds the stipulated thresholds, the jump will be cancelled without hesitation. This was what happened during the 2015 NDP, where the Red Lions segment was cancelled due to low clouds obstructing the visibility of the landing sites.
"The SAF's priority is safety, and the Red Lions will continue to be a part of our NDP celebrations only if safety can be ensured, with appropriate new measures, including those recommended by the review committee," he said.
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