New Zealand: Investigations of Death of Solider Nears Completion

The New Zealand Defence Force has confirmed that separate investigations into the death of a soldier who drowned during training in Waiouru are nearing completion.

On 25 September, 2012, NZ Army soldier Private (PTE) Michael Victor Ross, aged 29 years, from Kaitaia, went missing while undertaking small boat training on Lake Moawhango, in the Waiouru Training Area. His body was recovered several days later by the Royal New Zealand Navy Operational Dive Team.

The New Zealand Defence Force launched a Court of Inquiry to determine the circumstances surrounding the death of PTE Ross. It has considered the equipment that was used on this exercise, and has specifically looked at the lifejacket in operation that day, as well as other systems and processes.

PTE Ross’s family has been briefed on the interim court of inquiry findings, and the NZ Defence Force continues to support the family of PTE Ross during what it knows is a very difficult time for them.

The NZ Defence Force also confirms that concurrently, a preliminary enquiry under the Armed Forces Discipline Act 1971 by Military Police has been taking place, to determine if there is any evidence to support disciplinary action.

The Defence Force says the Court of Inquiry is nearing completion and it will publicly share the outcome when it is completed.

The Military Police investigation is making good progress, however, it would be inappropriate to discuss the detail of this investigation to avoid any prejudice to any decisions or judicial process that may follow.

The NZ Defence Force says that in addition to their own inquiries, they have provided all assistance to the independent Health and Safety investigation being carried out by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE – formerly the Department of Labour), as well as to the Coroner.

“We have acknowledged this tragedy and our inquiry has left no stone unturned in identifying our role in it,” says Chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant General (LTGEN) Rhys Jones.

“The NZ Defence Force has cooperated with a number of external agencies to identify all the issues, and to learn lessons from these so we can improve the way the NZ Defence Force operates.

“Given that formal investigations are still underway with regards to PTE Ross, and that a Coroner’s ruling is in place regarding the death of Corporal Hughes, the Defence Force is not able, at this time, to make a public comment on these tragedies.

“However we have not waited for these inquiries to finish before making improvements to our work and safety environment.”

The NZ Defence Force says management of risk and reduction of harm is central to its work as a military, as it is to any other organisation. To this end, the NZ Defence Force have prioritised health and safety as one of the key organisational issues of 2013, and placed its Vice Chief of Defence Force in charge of this area.

Health and safety is being monitored by the Defence Force Management Group (the DFMG), and the Defence Force is embarking on a rolling plan of work targeting strengthening its health and safety systems in 2013.

In December 2012 the NZ Defence Force adopted the Australia/New Zealand Standard 4801:2001 Occupational Health and Safety Systems, as the guiding framework for NZDF health and safety. At the same time Defence leaders took the decision to better align Navy, Army and Air Force reporting by adopting the Safety Reporting System (SRS) as the sole tool for health and safety reporting, which is to be used to report all incidents and accidents.

Naval Today Staff, March 21, 2013