CDF explains Incident at Kupiano

Chief of the PNG Defence Force (PNGDF), Major General Mark Goina, has conveyed his deepest condolences, and that of all the men and women of the PNGDF, to the families and friends of the recently deceased.

“Their death is a tragic loss to all. Those who were injured are our highest priority of support, and will remain so as we support their speedy recovery,” said Major General Goina.

MAJGEN Goina revealed the names of the two deceased, stating that their families and next of kin have all been informed. However, the names of the injured have been withheld at this time to protect their privacy.

The names of the deceased are:

  • Leading Seaman ERIC GWALE of Morobe and New Ireland descent, employed at HMPNGS Tarangau in Manus; and
  • Corporal WATATA KUTEGEN from Enga, employed as instructor at Goldie River Training Depot.

Advised by the Defence Minister to provide more details on the incident, MAJGEN Goina stated in a media conference on Wednesday July 6, “I will tell you all that I know but remain mindful that an investigation is underway which I will not compromise in any way.”

Outlining the context, Commander Goina said, “This was a tragic accident; those who were killed were not killed in action rather as a result of a tragic accident; just as those who were injured were not wounded in action, rather it was as a result of that same tragic incident.

MAJGEN Goina says it is the circumstances of this and respective responsibilities that is now being investigated.

“Our investigation is being conducted separate to, but in concert with, a police investigation. We are cooperating fully with the police and their investigation.”

Outlining in general what happened at Kupiano, the CDF noted that the specifics form part of the terms of reference for the investigation:

  • “The deceased and one of the injured were on the final, assessed exercise for a corporal qualifying course. The other injured person was a civilian, not involved in the exercise. There were 45 students on the course.
  • The deceased and other members of the course deployed to Kupiano on the 24th of June, and it was during the final activity on the 4th of July that the incident occurred.
  • On such exercise, blank rounds only are used. Some live rounds however, are often issued to nominated personnel in the group for safety and security reasons. There are strict protocols around these as to who gets them and how they are managed.
  • The exercise was land based involving infantry minor tactics as the section commander level. Course participants were taught how to issue orders and lead a section of soldiers in a series of challenging scenarios over an eight-day period. This included a series of tactical drills.
  • The final activity was a dawn raid on a notional enemy position in the vicinity of Kupiano Station, where a group of soldiers were acting as the enemy party. This involved the course assaulting in a formation using fire and maneuver techniques. The enemy party, as is common practice, opened fire on the assaulting group.
  • This assault, or attack, commenced at 5.45am and at some point it was realized that something had gone tragically wrong, the exercise was immediately stopped and first aid and medivac procedures initiated.
  • The Commanding Officer from Goldie River Training Depot was on site. All those involved in the incident, students and instructors were brought together. The incident site was secured and overseen until the police arrived, by road in the early afternoon. The injured were medevacked by helicopter, and in the early evening the deceased were also repatriated to Port Moresby, by helicopter.”

MAJGEN Goina stated that at this time, the above is all he is prepared to say on the incident.  

“The specifics of what occurred and the actions of all those involved will be detailed in the investigation report.”

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