SINGAPORE: A panel set up to review the training and safety management of the Red Lions found no procedural lapses, after a team member took a hard landing at the National Day Parade in 2022.
The panel also recommended some improvements, and safety and training enhancements have since been introduced, said Colonel (COL) Pang Chee Kong, Chief Commando Officer and Commander of the Special Operations Task Force, on Friday (May 5).
The review panel was commissioned to examine the training and safety management of the Red Lions after a team member, Third Warrant Officer (3WO) Jeffrey Heng skidded on the pavement and fell to the ground in his final landing at last year’s parade.
3WO Heng was the last of 10 parachutists to land at the Marina Bay floating platform, and the review panel found that there were “sudden and unexpected changes” in wind conditions during the jump on Aug 9, 2022, said the Defence Ministry (MINDEF) in a briefing on Friday.
“There was actually more turbulence experienced by the Red Lions jumpers than in previous rehearsal jumps,” said COL Pang.
As 3WO Heng was approaching his final turn, he experienced a sudden strong gust of wind from the rear, and to maintain control of his flight path, he executed a sharp left turn.
This caused his parachute to be depressurised briefly, resulting in a loss of altitude. The panel found that he could have turned towards his final leg earlier by turning more gradually, said COL Pang.
Since he had insufficient altitude for a flare landing, or a gentle landing, 3WO Heng “instinctively executed” the parachute landing fall as per protocol, and this prevented serious injury.
Responding to a question about whether 3WO Heng made a mistake in his response, leading to the incident, Commanding Officer of the Special Operations Tactical Support Centre Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Neo Choon Chea, who oversees parachuting training and Red Lions training, stressed that the team member did exactly as he was required.
The parachute landing fall is a fundamental break fall technique for any parachutist unable to do a flare landing, he said, adding that with unexpected weather conditions, the jumper has to make a split-second decision.
Since the incident, 3WO Heng has recovered well and was certified medically fit to resume freefall training in mid-April. He is part of the team coordinating training for the Red Lions team members who will jump at the 2023 National Day Parade at the Padang.
MINDEF also confirmed that the Red Lions will not be jumping in the heartlands for this year’s parade, but this decision was unrelated to the incident.
“Basically, last year’s incident and the review panel on it have no impact on whether the Red Lions are jumping in the heartlands this year or not. It’s related to each year’s NDP concept of celebrations, so this is not ruling out that in future NDPs, there won’t be heartland jumps,” said the ministry during the briefing.
NEW SAFETY AND TRAINING MEASURES
Among the safety measures rolled out, the size of this year’s landing zone at the Padang has been doubled, and will be situated further away from the spectator stands, said MINDEF.
Jumpers will be less susceptible to turbulence caused by eddy currents – air circulation that is created when wind encounters a solid object – and thermal effects. It will also give them more manoeuvring space, said the Defence Ministry.
The team has also introduced a new two-week Display Jump Preparatory Training programme conducted closer to National Day. Moving the high-intensity training closer to National Day was one of the review panel’s recommendations.
The programme, conducted in Thailand this year, recreates conditions of the jump the Red Lions will take during the parade, with a similar drop zone design and conditions, said LTC Neo.
“We designed the training drop zone to be similar to the layout of the Padang so that we allow the Red Lions to practise their landing approaches or the wind conditions that’s prevalent in the Padang, so that they’re very familiar with the landing approaches,” he added.
“And they get to practise the contingencies among their team members, how to react if the plan doesn’t hold in place.”
For the 2022 parade, the Red Lions team underwent similar training in September 2021 to prepare for the parade. This year, the programme was conducted in April and May, just months before on-site rehearsals are due to commence in June.
The Red Lions’ two-week Skills Enhancement Programme, which helps jumpers train their essential canopy piloting skills, also resumed this year, and the Red Lions team went through the programme in the United States in March. It was suspended in 2020 due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
The two programmes will allow the Red Lions to practise high-intensity jumps, making about four to six jumps per day, or 40 to 50 jumps over each course.
“When we did the review, the external panel … they all unanimously said that if you want a good jumper, you need to expose them to as many scenarios, as close to the conditions that you would expect to land when you go to the Padang,” said Deputy Inspector-General with the Singapore Armed Forces’ Inspector-General Office Kevin Goh.
This is why the panel’s recommendations were to intensify the training closer to the NDP and replicate the conditions as closely as possible, he added.
“So in terms of the training system, in terms of the safety culture, the panel didn’t find any issues with the commandos. It’s just how to … make the training a little bit better based on their experience.”
Source : CNA