Stuck but no panic
S'porean tourists stranded in snowstorm on Chinese mountain remain calm as they wait to be rescued
They were stuck in thick snow in China, perched on a narrow mountain pass lashed by strong winds.
Even after rescue personnel arrived 45 minutes later, it was a struggle to get them moving again.
Some of the 100 or so Singaporean tourists stuck in three buses on their way to Mount Wutai were worried and called the Singapore embassy in Beijing, The New Paper understands.
But they did not panic.
The passengers, mostly in their 50s and 60s, included veteran TV actress Lin Mei Jiao.
The incident happened between 3pm and 4pm on Sunday, in northern China's Shanxi province.
The three buses were just 15 minutes from Wanfo Temple, a Buddhist shrine where the tourists were going to seek blessings, said tour leader Eric Yong. He was leading the eight-day tour under the CTC Travel agency.
He is still with the tour group which will visit places like Taiyuan, Shanxi's capital, and Pingyao, a county in the province, before returning to Singapore on Friday.
The marketing manager for CTC said that although all three buses did not make it to Wanfo Temple, only one bus was affected by the snow.
That bus was stalled because strong winds blew snow from a surrounding mountain onto the vehicle while it was stationary, said Mr Yong.
"We had to stop and wait because two cars in front of the bus got stuck due to the snow.
"The road was narrow, and it was not possible to overtake them," explained the 45-year-old guide, who has been in this industry for 10 years.
While the bus was at a standstill, snow collected around its tyres, making it impossible for it to start moving again, he said.
The wheels were covered in snow about 30cm thick.
China News Agency had reported that the situation was precarious as the buses were close to the edge of the mountain road, with visibility down to less than 10m.
Seeing that it was getting late, Mr Yong dialled local emergency number 110, and waited for the police to come to their aid.
They waited about 45 minutes before officers arrived.
The officers had to make their way to the tourists largely on foot, as the mountain road was slippery and exposed to powerful winds.
At first, firefighters spread sand and stone under the wheels in an attempt to free them.
When this did not work, they used axes and shovels to clear snow from under the tyres.
Later, a forklift was used to tow the coaches out of the snow.
The coaches took tourists back to their hotel between 6pm and 7pm, said Mr Yong, who added that none of them were injured.
Senior manager at CTC Sherry Wang, who is in charge of the company's China tours, said they checked the weather forecast before the team made the trip after lunch that day.
While most of the tourists were cooperative and understanding of the situation, there were a few anxious ones, said Mr Yong.
A tourist said the situation was calm while they remained stuck.
"We were safe and informed of what was happening, so I wasn't worried. It wasn't cold because we were in the bus and had winter clothing," said the administrator in her 40s, who wanted to be known only as Ms Keng.
"Instead, it was a rather fresh experience, and not something that would deter me from returning to Shanxi in future."
Yesterday, the tourists made a second trip to Mount Wutai in clear weather.
The mountain, which has more than 40 sacred monasteries, was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2009.
Mount Wutai, literally, "the five terrace mountain", is the highest in northern China, with an altitude of more than 3,000m.
Other holidays gone wrong
KELANTAN, MALAYSIA (DECEMBER 2013)
A National University of Singapore student died after falling into a seven-tiered waterfall, said to be one of the highest in South-east Asia.
The 23-year-old had been on a trekking expedition with 22 other participants, who arrived at the top of the waterfall to catch the sunset and the view of the Gunong Stong State Park, in the Malaysian state of Kelantan.
His body was found in the lake below after a search-and-rescue operation was mounted by police, forest rangers and others.
The cause of death was listed as drowning.
MOUNT KAILASH, TIBET (MAY 2012)
Two Singaporeans died on the seventh day of their trip to Mount Kailash in Tibet, after developing altitude sickness at the 5,500m Dolma-la pass, the highest point of their journey.
The group of 10 Singaporeans had been struggling with the steep incline at the pass.
Three members of the group managed to return to the hotel to seek help and the five survivors were rescued.
The eight of them flew back to Singapore the next day.
Mount Kailash, which stands at 6,638m, is considered sacred by Buddhists and Hindus, and thousands of pilgrims visit the site every year.
LANCELIN, WESTERN AUSTRALIA (JULY 2011)
A four-wheel drive tour bus tipped over sand dunes in Lancelin, a town about an hour's drive north of Perth, injuring 19 people on board.
More than 30 Singaporeans were on the bus, on a "dealers' trip" organised by tyre company Bridgestone Singapore as a reward for its distributors.
Six staff members accompanied the dealers on the trip.
The experience was marketed as a thrilling adventure on what was dubbed "the best produced and performing 4WD (four-wheel drive) tour bus in the world".
It later emerged that the driver and tour operator may have lacked the requisite licences and permits for the four-wheel drive vehicle.
Register at MFA in case of emergency overseas
Registering with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) before you go on a trip can help you when you run into trouble.
MFA had told TNP last year that this is applicable even for trips to nearby places such as Johor Baru or Batam.
While these places are close by and familiar, there is sill the possibility of encountering problems.
The MFA may inquire about the safety of those registered, and they will be the first to be given information should there be a need to evacuate Singaporeans.
In 2012, Singaporeans made 6.4 million overseas trips, revealed Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs Sam Tan during the Committee of Supply debates in Parliament earlier this year.
That year, about 314,000 people alerted the MFA of their travel plans.
Consular officers do not only issue passports and emergency travel documents, MFA had said.
In an emergency, the MFA turns into a crisis management centre.
It also coordinates its efforts with other government agencies, including the Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Ministry of Home Affairs. And when it has to, with Singapore Airlines as well - usually when evacuation is needed.
HOW TO EREGISTER
- Go to eregister.mfa.gov.sg
- Choose whether registering for an individual or a group.
- Fill in details such as name, emergency contact numbers and travel plans like the cities you will be visiting and the corresponding dates.
- After registration, there will be an e-mail or SMS confirmation.
Alternatively, you can download a free smartphone application, MFA@SG, and eRegister.
With the app, you can locate the nearest overseas mission, view real-time travel advisories and access consular information and services.
It is available at the Apple App Store and Google Play (for Android devices).