19 pupils, 2 teachers arrive at Changi Airport to anxious parents and relatives yesterday Report by JUDITH TAN firstname.lastname@example.org
On Friday morning, their children were caught in the 6.0-magnitude earthquake in Sabah.
For the next 30 hours, parents and relatives waited anxiously for the return of 19 pupils and two teachers from Tanjong Katong Primary School (TKPS).
Mr Hafiz Ahmad was there as well.
He stood patiently outside the private holding room on the third level at Changi Airport Terminal 2 as he waited nervously for his niece Amal Ashley Lim. (See story on page 6.)
"I'm just glad she's safe," said the 43-year-old teacher.
Forty others were also waiting nearby. Some were staff from other schools.
And some were parent volunteers, whose children had been on the same overseas learning journey trip to Mount Kinabalu a year or two ago.
They were there to lend support.
At 3.45pm, the tense silence was broken by cries of joy and relief as the 19 children were ushered in, about 40 minutes after their plane landed.
One pupil was in a wheelchair, his leg in a cast.
Through gaps between the frosted glass panels guarding the room, we saw crying 12-year-olds running into the open arms of their loved ones.
SHAKEN BUT SAFE
Likewise, the parents were also seen sobbing quietly, relieved that their children were safely home.
Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, who was also in the room, later wrote on his Facebook wall: "The students were shaken but are safe. The teachers are also affected, yet stayed resilient and caring for the students."
The 19 children were part of a larger group of 29 pupils and eight teachers from TKPS who were on a school trip at Mount Kinabalu when the earthquake struck.
The returning pupils spent about an hour with their families and listened to a briefing by Ministry of Education staff before making their way home.
Speaking to reporters after the last child left, Mr Heng said it was "a very difficult time for everyone and I hope that every Singaporean will continue to support all the affected family members".
Mr Heng confirmed that one girl had died from the disaster and her parents had been informed. The girl has been identified as Peony Wee Ying Ping.
He also said a boy from the school was rescued and is receiving medical treatment at Kota Kinabalu.
Another two pupils and one teacher, all needing medical attention, are scheduled to return to Singapore on air ambulances today.
"My heart is heavy to learn that several bodies have been recovered. We’re not able to confirm if they are our students and teachers — but whether they are our students and teachers or not, they are loved and missed by their families."
— Minister of Education Heng Swee Keat on his Facebook page