Dad's roller-coaster of agony
Father of pupil killed in quake talks of pain of losing child
Worry, then hope and finally, grief.
Mr James Ho found himself going through the agony of trying to find out the fate of his young daughter.
Rachel Ho Yann Shiuan, 12, a Primary 6 pupil of Tanjong Katong Primary School (TKPS) who had gone on the ill-fated climb up Mount Kinabalu, was first reported to be missing after a deadly earthquake struck Sabah on Friday.
Later that day, Sabah Parks announced on its Facebook page that Rachel was one of the first two climbers found dead.
But when a grieving Mr Ho, 45, touched down in Kota Kinabalu on Saturday, he found out the dead girl was not Rachel but her schoolmate, Peony Wee Ying Ping, also 12.
Just as he and his wife again became hopeful, news broke that Rachel, clad in an unmistakable pink jacket, was found motionless beside a boulder the size of a car on Mount Kinabalu.
Yesterday, Mr Ho, who works in a bank, told The New Paper at his daughter's wake at their Poole Road bungalow in Tanjong Katong, that it had been an agonising weekend for his family.
"It was a roller-coaster ride, from the point we were in the school on Friday waiting for 12 excruciating hours, to when Rachel's name was mentioned as the girl with the dead guide, to when it was clarified it was Peony," he said, often pausing during the 20-minute interview to wipe away his tears.
At that point, he and his wife still hoped that Rachel was still alive.
"We had a bit of hope. But then my friend sent me a picture and asked me if we were ready to see (the body)," he said.
They saw the picture, were reality hit hard, and left in tears.
"We could clearly identify Rachel as she was wearing a pink jacket.
"It was then that we accepted that she was gone. And all we wished for was to retrieve her body," he said.
Mr Ho said that Rachel was with a few others climbing the via ferrata - a mountain route consisting of fixed cables, ladders and a bridge - when the earthquake happened.
Twenty-eight other students and eight teachers from TKPS were also on the leadership camp when the 6.0-magnitude earthquake struck.
"They couldn't run as they were on a steep slope, and stones, rocks and boulders came down on them.
"So the boulders might have hit the ropes (the children) were on and brought the ropes down. The kids had no chance," he said.
Identifying the bodies was an equally difficult task, he said.
To date, the bodies of six pupils, a teacher and a Singaporean adventure guide have been recovered. Another pupil and a teacher are still missing.
"As a parent, to see your daughter lying motionless in the morgue, was unbearable," Mr Ho said.
The flight in the C-130 aircraft back to Singapore was painful.
"It was three hours of flashbacks of what happened at that time, why she was there and memories of the body that we held at the morgue."
He and his wife have kept the news of Rachel's demise from their youngest son, 7. Their oldest son, 15, had cried his heart out after receiving the news on Sunday night, he said.
Mr Ho described his daughter as a lively, bubbly girl who dreamt of becoming a lawyer, banker or dentist.
Rachel also had a knack for making handicraft and friendship bands.
But her greatest passion was netball, which recently won its first-ever SEA Games gold medal for Singapore.
Said Mr Ho: "She enjoyed scoring goals, and could play as a goal attack or goal shooter.
"She played for her school for the past three years and would practise every day at home with the netball ring that we bought her, and even during recess at school."
She also planned to join the Cedar Girls' Secondary School netball team and aspired to represent Singapore one day.
Mr Ho was touched when Team Singapore's netballers visited TKPS earlier yesterday and left a medal - signed by all of them - for his daughter and also one each for her two netball-mates, Peony and Sonia Jhala, who were also killed.
"I wish she was here to see this," said Mr Ho, as he held up the medal.
He also thanked the Ministry of Education counsellors and staff for their support and help throughout the ordeal.
He particularly lauded the teachers who used their bodies to shield the children.
"From the pictures, it was touching to see that teachers were trying to protect the children from a direct hit.
"That's why Mr Terrence Loo's (injuries) were pretty serious. We are very thankful to the teachers who sacrificed their lives," he said.
Rachel had burst into tears on Wednesday morning as he and his wife were sending her off at the airport.
"She realised she forgot to bring the T-shirt they were to wear when they reached the peak, and she cried quite badly," he said.
Mr Ho and his wife reassured Rachel and hugged her - for the last time.
Among her last words were: "Papa, I'll miss you."
Said Mr Ho: "We're just thankful we've given her 12 wonderful years and she's given us 12 even more wonderful years."
29 students and eight teachers from Tanjong Katong Primary School (TKPS) were on a leadership camp when the 6.0-magnitude quake struck the 4,095m-high mountain. Rocks and boulders rained down on them as they traversed the mountain at via ferrata, a route along the rock face. Rescuers on Saturday escorted 137 hikers down to safety.
Six pupils and one teacher from TKPS, and a Singaporean adventure guide who helped the pupils were killed. Another pupil and teacher are missing.