Exercise Wallaby NSF death (2017)

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On 15 September 2017, 3rd Sergeant (3SG) Chan Hiang Cheng Gavin, a Vehicle Commander from 41st Battalion Singapore Armoured Regiment passed away after succumbing to his injuries from an overseas training related accident.[1] The incident occurred during Exercise Wallaby, a bilateral annual training exercise held at the Shoalwater Bay Training Area in Queensland, Australia. At 20 years old, Gavin Chan was a full time National Serviceman in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), serving his two-year mandatory National Service.

Details of incident[edit | edit source]

Bionix II Infantry Fighting Vehicle (AFV). Photograph taken at the Singapore Airshow (2008).

At the time of military training exercise in Shoalwater Bay Training Area, Gavin Chan was the vehicle commander for a BIONIX Infantry Fighting Vehicle. After an investigation was conducted by the Queensland coroner, the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) released a report detailing the findings with regards to Gavin Chan’s death.[2] The report revealed that the BIONIX was unable to advance forward due to an obstruction in its’ path, leading Gavin Chan to give the orders for the driver to slowly reverse down the steep hill the vehicle was on. While the vehicle was reversing, Gavin Chan was situated in the turret, with his upper body outside of the vehicle structure, so as to give the driver clearer instructions regarding the direction to reverse. The vehicle traveled over a flat granite rock for about 4 metres before the vehicle got caught on a large rock. Gavin Chan then instructed the driver to ‘turn the steering wheel in an attempt to gain traction’. However, the vehicle suddenly ‘dropped over the rock’ and rolled sideways. Gavin Chan was forcefully ejected from the vehicle and was badly injured. The accident reportedly occurred at around 6.15pm (Singapore time).


When Chan was found unconscious beside the vehicle, an SAF medic immediately tried to resuscitate him. Two SAF medical officers also helped to deliver on-site medical treatment, before Gavin Chan was airlifted to Rockhampton Airport via a helicopter. He was later transferred to Rockhampton Hospital. The medics that were with Chan attempted resuscitation efforts the whole time, but the efforts proved futile as he was pronounced dead at around 10.36pm (Singapore time), roughly 4 hours after the initial incident. The driver and two other passengers travelling in the vehicle were not injured. Gavin Chan’s parents arrived in Queensland, Australia on the morning of 16 September 2017 and were escorted by family-liason officers from the SAF.[3] Gavin Chan’s death was classified as a training-related incident and compensation was offered to his family.

Gavin Chan's funeral[edit | edit source]

On 19 September 2017, MINDEF released an update on the situation, stating that a SAF plane carrying the body of the late 3rd Sergeant (3SG) Chan Hiang Cheng Gavin had returned to Singapore at around 6pm. Gavin Chan’s parents were also onboard the plane. In the statement, MINDEF also explained that "the late 3SG Chan will be accorded the honours of a military funeral". On 20 September 2017, at Gavin Chan’s wake, his father addressed the reporters present on site. He stated that he wanted to tell the 3 other servicemen involved in the incident to move on with their lives. His exact words were, "I want the three of them to go ahead, think positive, don't feel bad - life still moves on".[4] Gavin Chan's military funeral and cremation ceremony was held at Mandai Crematorium on 23 September 2017.[5]


At around 10AM, Chan's cortège left Pasir Ris for Mandai Crematorium. 300 military personnel flanked the pathway leading up to the Mandai Crematorium, among them were Gavin Chan’s platoon mates who had flown back to Singapore from Australia to attend the funeral. His casket bearers were fellow commanders from other SAF armour units. They were led to the service hall while a military band played Dead March in Saul, which is commonly played for state funerals. A state flag was also passed to his family, along with a gun salute and a minute of silence.[6] As a final ceremonial farewell for all state funerals, the Last Post and Rouse bugle call was played.

Responses[edit | edit source]

Ministry of Defence (MINDEF)[edit | edit source]

The incident triggered a one-day safety pause in order to evaluate what had happened during the incident and whether there were enough safety measures in place to continue with the annual military exercise.[7] MINDEF also convened a Committee of Inquiry (COI) to present a report on the matter, following the investigations.[8] The COI identified some safety lapses which occurred, such as the fact that the Night Vision Device, which allows those operating the vehicle to see in the darkness, in Gavin Chan’s vehicle was not working. Without the Night Vision Device, armoured vehicles are allowed to move if the driver’s hatch is open and headlights are switched on. At the time of the incident, Chan's vehicle did not have its headlights turned on. According to a statement given by the vehicle driver, Chan had felt that the headlights "would give away their position to the enemy".[9]


Following the findings that came to light during the investigation, and the recommendations made by the committee, the SAF implemented certain changes to ensure such an incident does not repeat itself.[10] According to the Ministerial Statement made by Minister for Defence Dr. Ng Eng Hen, the following changes have been made to better regulate the safety of NSFs:

  • Stricter training safety regulations have been imposed. When executing certain operational tasks, the vehicle commander must only be exposed up to the waist level.
  • The SAF has also carried out the drills for day-to-night and night-to-day transitions, including ensuring that the Night Vision Devices and other night fighting equipment on the checklist are in working order.
  • The SAF has enforced the rule regarding wearing seatbelts. Those who do not adhere to this rule will be penalised with relevant disciplinary action.

Politicians[edit | edit source]

In October 2017, then Second Minister of Defence Ong Ye Kung visited the Singaporean soldiers in Australia for the bilateral military exercise, Exercise Wallaby, at the Shoalwater Bay Training Area.[11] Addressing reporters on 9 October 2017, he affirmed that the safety measures for Exercise Wallaby are comprehensive and well-rounded. He also rode on the BIONIX Infantry Fighting Vehicle, the armoured vehicle Gavin Chan was in when the accident occurred. Ong Ye Kung was the vehicle commander during his participation in the overturn drill, mirroring Gavin Chan’s role.[12] Ong Ye Kung also reassured the National Servicemen stationed there that the SAF has called all of their parents to inform that their sons are safe, following Gavin Chan’s incident.


Member of Parliament for Tanjong Pagar GRC Joan Pereira, honoured the late Gavin Chan in her speech on 26 January 2018, at the YMCA-Lim Kim San Volunteer Awards Night. Gavin Chan was an active volunteer with the YMCA from 2011 to 2014, and was a recipient of a Special Mention Award in 2014.[13]

References / Citations[edit | edit source]

  1. “NSF dies in vehicular mishap at Shoalwater Bay Training Area in Australia”. Channel NewsAsia. September 16, 2017. Accessed on 29 January 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/nsf-dies-in-vehicular-mishap-at-shoalwater-bay-training-area-in-9221940
  2. “Ministerial Statement by Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen, on National Service Training Deaths for Parliament Sitting”. Ministry of Defence. May 17, 2018. Accessed on 29 January 2019. For more details, refer to: https://www.mindef.gov.sg/web/portal/mindef/news-and-events/latest-releases/article-detail/2018/may/17may18_nr/
  3. Ng, Huiwen. “NSF's death in Australia: Vehicle landed on its side”. The Straits Times. September 17, 2017. Accessed on 29 January 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/nsfs-death-in-australia-vehicle-landed-on-its-side
  4. Seow, Bei Yi. “Father of NSF who died in Australia tells platoon mates involved in accident to think positive”. The Straits Times. September 20, 2017. Accessed on 29 January 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/father-of-nsf-who-died-in-australia-tells-platoon-mates-involved-in-accident-to-think
  5. “Update 2 on Shoalwater Bay Training Area Incident”. Ministry of Defence. September 19, 2017. Accessed on 29 January 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.mindef.gov.sg/web/portal/mindef/news-and-events/latest-releases/article-detail/2017/september/19sep17_nr/
  6. Ong, Justin. Devadass, Kamini. “Hundreds turn out at military funeral for NSF soldier Gavin Chan who died in Australia”. Channel NewsAsia. September 27, 2017. Accessed on 29 January 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/hundreds-turn-out-at-military-funeral-for-nsf-soldier-gavin-chan-9243622
  7. Ng, Jun Sen. “Safety stepped up in Australian training area for SAF after NSF dies in vehicle incident”. The Straits Times. October 8, 2017. Accessed on 29 January 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/australianz/safety-stepped-up-in-australian-training-area-for-saf-after-nsf-dies-in-vehicle
  8. “Ministerial Statement by Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen, on National Service Training Deaths for Parliament Sitting”. Ministry of Defence. May 17, 2018. Accessed on 29 January 2019. For more details, refer to: https://www.mindef.gov.sg/web/portal/mindef/news-and-events/latest-releases/article-detail/2018/may/17may18_nr/
  9. “Ministerial Statement by Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen, on National Service Training Deaths for Parliament Sitting”. Ministry of Defence. May 17, 2018. Accessed on 29 January 2019. For more details, refer to: https://www.mindef.gov.sg/web/portal/mindef/news-and-events/latest-releases/article-detail/2018/may/17may18_nr/
  10. “Ministerial Statement by Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen, on National Service Training Deaths for Parliament Sitting”. Ministry of Defence. May 17, 2018. Accessed on 29 January 2019. For more details, refer to: https://www.mindef.gov.sg/web/portal/mindef/news-and-events/latest-releases/article-detail/2018/may/17may18_nr/
  11. “Second Minister for Defence Ong Ye Kung Visits Exercise Wallaby and Witnesses Integrated Live-Firing”. Ministry of Defence. October 8, 2017. Accessed on 29 January 2019. For more details, refer to: https://www.mindef.gov.sg/web/portal/mindef/news-and-events/latest-releases/article-detail/2017/october/09oct17_nr/
  12. Mahmud, Aqil Haziq. “Exercise Wallaby commanders remain committed to safety: Ong Ye Kung”. Channel NewsAsia. October 9, 2017. Accessed on 29 January 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/exercise-wallaby-commanders-remain-committed-to-safety-ong-ye-9293152
  13. Wong, Cassandra. “Late National Serviceman Gavin Chan honoured for volunteerism”. Yahoo News Singapore. January 26, 2018. Accessed on 29 January 2019. Retrieved from: https://sg.news.yahoo.com/late-national-serviceman-gavin-chan-honoured-volunteerism-124841380.html