LANGKAWI: Three army paratroopers, including two women, from an elite army commando unit were killed and five others seriously injured when a mock assault on the international airport at Padang Matsirat here went awry.
Erratic wind patterns during the exercise blew 18 paratroopers off course – some of them plunged into the sea 30m off the airport's runway while others landed hard on the tarmac.
Langkawi OCPD Supt Mohamad Ali Jamaluddin said the dead were identified as Trooper Raimond Duncan, 25, from Simunjan, Sarawak; Private Nurul Wahida Yunos, 20, from Tanjung Malim, Perak; and Ranger Siti Hajar Yakub, 24, from Masjid Tanah, Malacca.
The exercise, carried out yesterday morning, was a full-dress rehearsal for the opening ceremony of the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace (Lima) 2007 exhibition, which begins here tomorrow.
The incident occurred shortly after the paratroopers, all from the 10th Brigade Para based at Terendak Camp, Malacca, jumped out of two planes at an altitude of 4,000m at 10.30am.
Army chief Jen Tan Sri Muhammad Ismail Jamaluddin said the paratroopers had jumped from the aircraft within the wind speed tolerance allowed.
“According to the standard operating procedure (SOP), paratroopers should not jump when the wind speed is above 11 knots. However, the wind speed at the point of incident was eight knots. I’d never allow my soldiers to jump if it had been above the acceptable wind speed,” he said.
Supt Mohamad Ali said some of the soldiers were rescued by fishermen who were fishing in the area while the police and other rescue agencies, including the army, launched a search and rescue operation when they realised that some of the soldiers had landed in the water.
Siti Hajar drowned while Duncan and Nurul Wahida died at the Langkawi Hospital. It is learnt that the three dead paratroopers were entangled by their parachute cords.
A source told The Star that the army dive master stopped 22 other paratroopers from jumping after they realised that the situation was unsafe.
The source said 11 paratroopers were injured in the incident including several who landed hard on the tarmac and had their parachutes dragged by the strong wind.
At least three soldiers were injured after they landed on top of aircraft parked on the tarmac for the Lima exhibition.
The soldiers were taken to the hospital by ambulances on standby at the airport.
Royal Malaysian Air Force public relations officer Mej Zulkiflee Abdul Latiff said the accident occurred due to uncertain wind conditions.
He said the paratroopers were part of 138 men and women who were involved in the mock exercise.