Singapore

Parent says: Rescue chopper couldn't land

1 S'porean dead; 
8 pupils, 2 teachers 
from Tanjong Katong Primary School missing

A Singaporean has been identified as one of the two dead in the 6.0-magnitude Sabah earthquake yesterday morning.

Late last night, a top Sabah Parks official told The New Paper that one of the two bodies brought down from Mount Kinabalu was that of a 12-year-old Singaporean girl.

Dr Jamil Nais, director of Sabah Parks, told TNP that the deceased's family was being notified.

Malaysian papers also reported another death, a 30-year-old guide from Sabah. (See report on page 4.)

According to Malaysia's The Star, the earthquake left at least 137 people, including about 32 guides, stranded on the mountain. Four were injured and two instructors are missing.

A group of 29 students and eight teachers from Tanjong Katong Primary School (TKPS) were stranded on the Malaysian mountain.

Of the group, eight pupils and two teachers are still not accounted for.

At TKPS, parents were anxiously waiting last night in a "holding room" after news of the earthquake broke.

One woman, whose grandniece was on the trip, said she was first told that the girl had been rescued by a helicopter. Then she was told that a rescue team had brought the 12-year-old girl down the mountain by foot.

The latest information she got about her grandniece was that she was on the way to hospital at 6pm yesterday.

Sounding confused and agitated, the woman, who declined to give her name, told The New Paper last night: "We know that she's injured, but nobody told us how badly she is injured."

The TKPS group was one of three school groups here who had gone to Mount Kinabalu on an overseas learning journey.

Early this morning, the Ministry of Education (MOE) told TNP that all 32 pupils and four teachers from the other two schools, Fuchun Secondary School and Greenridge Secondary, have returned safely to Singapore at 12.20am.

"Of the 29 students and eight teachers from Tanjong Katong Primary School, 21 students and six teachers have been accounted for," the MOE spokesman said last night.

"We are continuing efforts to contact the remaining eight students and two teachers. Parents have been informed and kept updated on the situation."

The MOE spokesman added that for the families of the pupils and teachers who are missing, arrangements are being made to fly them to Kota Kinabalu this morning.

The mother of the 12-year-old pupil mentioned earlier, who declined to be named, said her daughter had been on a student leaders' trip called the Omega Challenge.

She and most of the parents have been "camping" in the holding room in the primary school since yesterday morning, she said.

STRESSED

The girl's grandaunt, who spoke to TNP at about 8pm, said details were unclear and they were still waiting for more news.

"We are all in a very emotionally stressed state," she said.

"We are getting our updates from Malaysian-based online news sites.

"The school has stopped parents from contacting the media and we are very angry."

Another parent, who did not want to be identified, said the missing eight children and two teachers "were on a different route".

Out of the 21 children accounted for, he said five were injured.

"They suffered injuries to their heads, arms and limbs," he said.

"They were waiting for a helicopter to evacuate them at 1pm, but an hour later they found out that it could not land.

"Rescuers had to trek up the mountain and bring them down, taking about four hours."

TNP understands that teachers from TKPS have been updating a blog about the trip since May at the following address: tkpsomegachallenge1.blogspot.sg

The latest blog post, which was on Thursday, said the group was at Pendant Hut, one of the checkpoints along the climbing route.

MOE said that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) also despatched a Crisis Response Team to Sabah yesterday afternoon to provide consular assistance to Singaporeans.

A spokesman for the MFA said there were more than 100 registered Singaporeans in Sabah at the time of the earthquake.

The spokesman added that as of 7.30pm yesterday, MFA "has contacted the majority and we are glad that they are safe".

"We are doing our best to reach the Singaporeans who remain uncontactable at this point in time," she said.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also posted on his Facebook page last night about the earthquake.

"We have contacted most Singaporeans who are there, and are glad they are safe. However, several are still out of contact. We are doing all we can to reach them and I really hope they are alright."

TNP spoke to some Singaporeans who were on AirAsia flight AK 789 which arrived in Singapore from Kota Kinabalu at 5.40pm yesterday.

A housewife, who wanted to be known only as Madam Jamilah, 58, said she was there for a four-day holiday with her husband.

"I felt the earthquake in my 10th floor hotel room at about 7.15am. The ground moved like a see-saw, and I thought I was having a headache," she said.

She and her husband were not hurt.

She had climbed Mount Kinabalu on Wednesday.

"Luckily, we were not on the mountain when the earthquake happened. My daughter called us from Singapore, asking if we were okay.

"We are lucky to have escaped the worst of it."

At least five other flights from Kota Kinabalu yesterday were delayed due to the earthquake.

- Additional reporting by 
Elizabeth Law

One way up and down kinabalu

Climbers who have scaled Mount Kinabalu said there is only one main access up and one down the tallest peak in South-east Asia.

The Timpohon trail is the one "almost all the trackers take," said seasoned climber Johann Annuar, 41.

All climbing activity on the mountain has been suspended and hikers have been told to stay put because of the danger of falling rocks.

Rescue helicopters were also hampered by cloud and wind conditions that made it difficult to land on the plateau.

At 4,095m above sea level, Mount Kinabalu is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Sabah. Visitors are forced to book two to three months in advance to secure one of 196 daily allocated hiking permits.

Singaporean mountaineer Khoo Swee Chiow, 50, told The New Paper that Mount Kinabalu is the first mountain that many Singaporeans and Malaysians climb.

"As an introduction to mountain climbing, it's a good peak. But even though it's only a two-day climb, one still has to be physically fit to do so," he said.

GRUELLING

Student Subhradip Sikdar, 20, who climbed Mount Kinabalu just four weeks ago with two friends, said that despite being young and fit, it was gruelling.

"The trail started easy and got more challenging towards the top. It got tougher and steeper at the 3km mark. The steps are more uneven," he said.

Mr Sikdar said that after the 6km mark, the terrain is rocky, sandy and slippery.

"The weather was also unpredictable. It was sunny at the beginning, then it started to rain. Visibility became bad.

"But the saving grace was that at every 700m there were resting points."

The second part of their climb towards Low's Peak - the summit of the mountain - started at 2am.

"At one point, we had to do a 100ft (30m) vertical climb using ropes. This was done in total darkness to reach a checkpoint," he said.

Mr Sikdar said they were told that they had to descend from Low's Peak by 8am. Otherwise the cloud cover would make it impossible to do so.

Those now stuck on the mountain can only stay put and wait to be rescued.

"They would be okay if they have enough clothing to stay warm. The only worry is food as attempts to deliver food were hampered by fog," Mr Johann said.


The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Singaporeans who know of any loved ones and friends in Sabah that may require consular assistance can contact the Singapore High Commission in Kuala Lumpur at +60-16-661-0400 or singhc_kul@sgmfa.gov.sg. Alternatively, they may contact the MFA Duty Officer (24- hour) at 6379- 8800/8855 or mfa_duty_ officer@mfa.gov.sg.