While attempting to account for how 20 military police conscripts came to be injured after inhaling smoke during exercises employing smoke grenades, Ministry of National Defense officials yesterday only succeeded in putting up a smoke screen themselves.
The ministry first prevented a doctor who treated the affected soldiers from speaking at a press conference held to explain the accident.
Yet even after gagging the doctor, who had been wanting to tell his side of the story, ministry and military police spokespersons still failed to present a convincing explanation.
Tri-Service General Hospital, where the injured were treated, was apparently not immediately notified of the components of the smoke grenade that caused the accident. It said that on Dec. 2, the day of the accident, 20 military police conscripts were treated, but the hospital did not get the information it needed until two days later.
The delay resulted in families of the soldiers blaming the hospital for not properly treating what the military police had called "minor smoke inhalation."
Four of the injured conscripts still need endotracheal tubes to allow normal breathing.
At issue was whether military police had provided timely information to doctors about a grenade that caused the group of conscripts to suffer smoke inhalation. Military police officials denied any delay in notifying doctors, but a military official from a different unit contradicted them.
"The notification was made on Dec. 4, [two days after the accident occurred]" said Colonel Liu Tai-chieh (劉台傑), deputy director of the military armaments bureau's 204th arsenal. The arsenal produces the smoke grenades that are blamed for the accident.
"We provided the information within 30 minutes of receiving a request from the military police," Liu said.
The information described the components of the smoke grenade, and was vital for doctors in determining treatment.
Liu's comment took officials by surprise.
Colonel Wu Ching-ping (
Ministry spokesman Major General Huang Sui-sheng (黃穗生) is thought to have decided against Wu's attendance after having an argument with him prior to the start of the press conference, defense sources said.
The accident occurred on a military police training ground located in Taipei County's Linkou township. A total of 20 soldiers suffered discomfort after entering a tunnel while practicing moving under heavy smoke conditions.
Two locally-made smoke grenades, including an M18 violet-smoke grenade and a M8 white-smoke grenade, were used in the drill.
The M18 was set off at the exit of the tunnel and the M8 at the entrance, the military police spokesperson said.
It was the M8 grenade that caused the trouble. Because of a change in wind direction, the smoke it produced filled the tunnel, then occupied by 59 conscripts. But this had not been detected by commanding officers.