Open verdict on soldier's death
Elena Chong
Wed, May 21, 2008
The Straits Times

A GROUP of national servicemen on duty in Taiwan were busy cleaning their guns on May 11 last year when suddenly they saw a fighter jet spiralling towards their camp.

The soldiers scurried for their lives as the out-of-control plane bore down on their base in Hukou, about 50km south of the capital Taipei.

The jet smashed into the camp in a tremendous fireball, immediately killing the pilot, co-pilot and two people on the ground.

Details of the crash were recounted yesterday during a coroner's inquiry into the death of Lance Corporal Calvin Chow Han Min. The 19-year-old supply assistant survived the initial explosion but suffered severe burns and died 17 days later in a Singapore hospital.

An officer from Bedok police division took the stand yesterday to present a report on the crash.

The court heard that the 6th Battalion Singapore Infantry Regiment (6SIR) was in Taiwan for unilateral training from May 4 to 20. Lance Cpl Chow was helping 6SIR move supplies.

Two Taiwanese F5-F jets were buzzing above the camp, practising for a live-firing exercise, said Staff Sergeant Lian Wee Nan in his investigation report.

Suddenly, two servicemen saw one plane careen towards a shed at about 9.40am, the court was told. Others heard the whirring of its engine and ran for cover behind a slope.

When the fighter jet crashed into the Hukou camp, an explosion and huge fire engulfed two storehouses.

Private Fan Yao Jin, 23, and Third Sergeant Isz Sazli Sapari, 19, died on site while Lance Cpl Chow and Third Sergeant Ramakrishnan Karthigayan, then 23, were severely injured and taken to a local hospital.

They were airlifted to Singapore the following day.

Lance Cpl Chow died on May 28 of blood poisoning. He had burns over more than half his body.

Third Sgt Karthigayan, 24, who suffered burns on his hands, body, and superficially on his face, is on the road to a full recovery.

Yesterday, Staff Sgt Lian said Taiwan, a place where national servicemen have trained for the past 30 years, had completed an investigation into the cause of the crash. According to a Ministry of Defence lawyer present in court, the Taiwanese authorities had not made their findings public.

A preliminary report on the crash, by Taiwan's Defence Ministry, said a combination of pilot error, low visibility and technical problems could have caused the tragedy.

Internal inquiries by the Ministry of Defence and the Singapore Armed Forces showed no evidence that the SAF or its servicemen were responsible for the crash.

Recording an open verdict, State Coroner Victor Yeo said that, without the Taiwanese final report, he could not determine the cause of the accident.

Lance Cpl Chow's parents, Mr Sebastian Chow Kok Woh, 57, and his wife, Madam Chan Yeok Mui, in her 50s, said outside court that Calvin was a filial son and they missed him.

Next month, their younger son will start national service with the police force.




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