Three lessons from AirAsia search mission

Three lessons from AirAsia search mission
Second Minister for Defence Chan Chun Sing interacting with Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) servicemen on board RSS Supreme before departing for Indonesia on December 29, 2014.

SINGAPORE - Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen cited three key lessons that Singapore and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) can draw from the tragedy of the AirAsia plane crash and the search efforts which it took part in.

The Airbus A320-200 crashed into the Java Sea on Dec 28, less than halfway into a two-hour flight from Surabaya in Indonesia to Singapore. All 162 people on board were killed.

To aid search-and-rescue efforts, the SAF deployed more than 400 personnel, two RSAF C-130 aircraft, two Super Puma helicopters, five navy ships and a six-man Autonomous Underwater Vehicle team in the course of the 22-day mission.

Singapore's efforts in the multi-nation search operation ended two weeks ago, with the return of the naval ship MV Swift Rescue, which found the plane's fuselage.

Reflecting on the mission, Dr Ng said in a written reply to MP Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) that the first lesson was the need to maintain a high level of operation readiness.

"Even though it was the last weekend of the holiday season, our servicemen responded quickly and gave their full effort," he said, citing an RSAF C-130 aircraft that was airborne within two hours of being activated, and Singapore aircraft and ships which were the first foreign forces to arrive on the scene.

The second lesson was the importance of "realistic, tough and rigorous training".

Dr Ng said servicemen, including full-time national servicemen (NSFs), go through rigorous training so that they can "carry out their mission with the highest standards of professionalism" when activated for actual operations, like the search for AirAsia Flight QZ8501.

For example, those on naval vessels had to contend with waves of more than 2m high on some days. But their training paid off, when the MV Swift Rescue spotted the fuselage of the missing aircraft, added Dr Ng.

He also said a total of 56 NSFs were involved in the search-and-rescue effort.

The third lesson was the importance of having strong bilateral relationships in the region, particularly with Singapore's neighbours.

Serious disasters and accidents can affect any country without warning, and neighbours should assist one another when they happen, he said.

Dr Ng pointed out that Singapore offered help to Indonesia and, at the same time, to Malaysia, when floods hit its north-east.

"For the missing AirAsia flight, the years of close cooperation between Singapore and Indonesia, particularly at the military level, paid off and enabled the SAF to do its part in the operations," he said.

Dr Ng extended his condolences to the loved ones of those aboard the plane. He was also proud of the SAF, which represented Singapore well. In addition, he thanked MPs and Singaporeans for their encouraging words during the search effort.

This article was first published on January 30, 2015.
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