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SAF captain pleads not guilty to causing NSF Liu Kai’s death in training exercise

SINGAPORE — A captain from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has pleaded not guilty to causing full-time national serviceman (NSF) Liu Kai’s death by a rash act at a military training exercise in 2018.

Ong Lin Jie (pictured) was among a group of trainers who moved around in a Land Rover to observe Bionix vehicles and ensure safety procedures were followed during a military exercise.

Ong Lin Jie (pictured) was among a group of trainers who moved around in a Land Rover to observe Bionix vehicles and ensure safety procedures were followed during a military exercise.

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  • SAF officer Ong Lin Jie was charged with causing full-time serviceman Liu Kai’s death by a rash act
  • He pleaded not guilty, as the court heard more details of what happened
  • Ong ordered the 22-year-old to overtake a Bionix armoured vehicle at a training exercise in 2018
  • Liu stopped his Land Rover 16m to 18m behind the Bionix, breaching the 30m safe distance
  • The Bionix reversed into the Land Rover, killing him 

 

SINGAPORE — A captain from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has pleaded not guilty to causing full-time national serviceman (NSF) Liu Kai’s death by a rash act at a military training exercise in 2018. 

Captain Ong Lin Jie, 30, went on trial on Thursday (March 18) in the State Courts over the incident at Jalan Murai near Lim Chu Kang on Nov 3, 2018.

Ong ordered Corporal First Class Liu, then 22, to overtake a Bionix armoured vehicle during a simulated firefight. Ong was the vehicle commander of the Land Rover that Liu was driving.

Liu complied, breaching the safe distance of 30m between the two vehicles. The Bionix later reversed into and mounted the driver’s side of the Land Rover, killing Liu. 

Medical officers pronounced the Singapore permanent resident dead soon afterwards. 

Ong, a platoon trainer attached to SAF’s Armour Training Institute, is accused of failing to maintain the 30m safe distance by ordering Liu to overtake the Bionix, without first making contact with the Bionix.

Ong has been suspended from service since the incident. 

Court documents stated it was unsafe “because of the risk that the Bionix would open fire and execute an extrication drill by reversing the Bionix”.

Prosecutors said they would produce evidence to show this should have been obvious to Ong, so as to prove the charge beyond a reasonable doubt.

HOW IT BEGAN

The court heard that the three-day exercise near Sungei Gedong Camp by the Armour Training Institute’s armour unit training centre started the day before the fatal incident.

A platoon from Jaguar Company acted as the opposing force. 

They were given the task of delaying the advance of Kaffir Company by positioning themselves at a series of “delay lines”, with both sides engaging in simulated firefights.

Kaffir Company dispatched 11 Bionix vehicles, while the Jaguar platoon deployed three.

Ong was among a group of trainers attached to the exercise. He moved around in the Land Rover to observe the Bionix vehicles and ensure safety procedures were followed, among other duties.

As vehicle commander of the Land Rover, he was also responsible for Liu’s safety by ensuring it was 30m from other vehicles at all times.

TRAPPED

On the day of the incident, the training exercise began around 7am. 

Ong was later told over the in-vehicle radio set that one of his platoon’s Bionix vehicles had been defeated in a firefight. The two remaining Bionix vehicles from the Jaguar platoon — including BX13, which would later kill Liu — continued with the plan to delay forces from Kaffir Company.

Based on facts agreed between the prosecution and defence, BX13 was travelling towards a T-junction when the crew spotted another Bionix from their platoon at a junction farther ahead. BX13 came to a stop before the T-junction.

Ong and Liu, who were in the Land Rover, stopped about 30m behind BX13.

Later, BX13’s commander spotted some Bionix vehicles crossing the same junction ahead and realised they were from Kaffir Company.

At about 9.58am, Ong told Liu to overtake BX13 on the left.

At the same time, the gunner in BX13 complied with orders from his vehicle commander to fire three rounds at the Bionix vehicles in front of them. The commander also immediately ordered the driver to reverse, as part of the drill in such engagements.

In the midst of overtaking BX13, Liu heard the firing and stopped about 16m to 18m behind the Bionix. The armoured vehicle reversed and mounted the Land Rover, pinning Liu down.

Ong extricated himself while Liu remained trapped. 

The serviceman was pronounced dead at the scene at about 10.35am, with an autopsy showing that he died from traumatic asphyxia, an injury that interrupts breathing.

SAFE DISTANCE WHEN OVERTAKING

Captain Wan Hong Wee, conducting officer of the training exercise, testified on Thursday that he designed the exercise based on stipulated training objectives. 

He also moved around the exercise area, situating himself at critical junctions where vehicle fights could occur.

Capt Wan told the court that Ong would need to know the broad plans of both sides to have “situational awareness” and carry out his role as a trainer.

The 30m safe distance, which applied to armoured and non-armoured vehicles, was meant to prevent any danger or collision, and allow enough time to react, he said.

There are no specific rules on overtaking. But when overtaking a stationary armoured vehicle, crew members should ensure 2m between vehicles, he added.

Capt Wan said he would try to make contact with vehicles ahead of his before overtaking. 

“If the area is big enough, I will command my vehicle to ensure there is sufficient space by the side before I overtake… It’s similar to driving a civilian car.” 

As for the fatal incident, Capt Wan said Ong called him to report it, but he could not make out what was happening. He also heard firing.

If convicted, Ong could be jailed up to five years or fined, or punished with both.

Soon after the fatal accident, five full-time national servicemen from the Singapore Civil Defence Force shared photographs of the scene on messaging application WhatsApp. 

They were found to have breached the Official Secrets Act, and were fined or given probation. 

Related topics

Ong Lin Jie Liu Kai death SAF Bionix

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