The military yesterday apologized for an accident on Monday evening in which one marine was killed and four injured when they were run over by a tank, saying the tank driver might not have seen the soldiers on the roadside because of low visibility.
The accident occurred at the 66th Marine Brigade base in Hukou Township (湖口), Hsinchu County.
Huang Chun-han (黃俊翰) died before he could be taken to hospital, while the four other soldiers suffered fractured pelvises. Their injuries were not life-threatening.
Huang’s parents broke down when they saw his body at a military hospital.
Deputy Chief of General Staff of the Marines Colonel Wang Jui-lin (王瑞麟) told a press conference at the Ministry of National Defense yesterday that the 66th Marine Brigade’s tank unit conducted a live-fire training practice at a shooting range at the base from 2pm until 4:40pm. Eleven M60A3 tanks then left to move to another location at the base. The tank involved in the accident was third in formation. Because it was getting dark at about 5:15pm, a commander asked the tank drivers to maintain a greater distance between each tank.
Wang said that as the tanks passed through a narrow section of the road, they encountered soldiers walking along the road carrying ammunition.
He said the tanks stopped and that a commander asked the soldiers to wait by the roadside for the tanks to pass.
Possibly because of darkness or an error of judgement, the third tank driver moved and ran into the soldiers, Wang said.
He added that the road was 4.5m wide and an M60A3 tank is 3.6m wide.
Wang and Colonel Lee Hai-ling (李海鴒), director of the 66th Marine Brigade’s political warfare department, bowed and apologized to the victims, their families and the public.
Wang said military prosecutors had inspected the scene and that the driver would face a criminal investigation.
Following the incident, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Hsueh Ling (薛凌) demanded that the military disclose the operational rates of the M60A3s.
At least three accidents involving M60A3 tanks — in 2003, 2005 and in June this year — were all related to the tank’s brake system, raising concern about the tanks’ reliability, Hsueh said in a press release.
Taiwan obtained 460 M60A3 tanks from the US after the first Iraq War in 1991, Hsueh said, adding that the operational rate of the 34-year-old tanks was questionable.
Hsueh cited unnamed military sources as saying that the operational rate of the M60A3 tanks was below 50 percent.
Under orders from Minister of National Defense Kao Hua-chu (高華柱) in 2010, 88 M60A3 tanks were transferred from the army to the 66th and 99th marine brigades, which were previously equipped with M41D tanks, Hsueh said.
The military has to disclose the operational rates of those tanks and explain if the M60A3s transferred to the marines were scheduled to be phased out by the army until Kao ordered the transfer, Hsueh said.
“If that’s the case, the Ministry of Defense does not take the lives of our soldiers seriously enough,” she said.