Mountain guide who carried Peony down: My heart was feeling great pain that a young life had been lost
Two mountain guides and a helicopter pilot went to extraordinary lengths to bring our children home, braving aftershocks, falling rocks & bad weather
With a heavy heart, mountain guide Nizam Lokong helped carry Peony Wee Ying Ping's body down Mount Kinabalu.
The Tanjong Katong Primary School pupil was among the first named casualties after a 6.0-magnitude earthquake struck at 7.15am last Friday.
Mr Lokong, 42, had been waiting to lead a group up the mountain when the earthquake struck.
After climbs were cancelled, he joined scores of other guides in rescue efforts in the afternoon, climbing up to Laban Rata, near the summit of Mount Kinabalu.
When he arrived at about 5pm, another guide had already found Peony's body and placed her in a body bag.
"We wanted to bring her body down quickly so she could be laid to rest as soon as possible," Mr Lokong told The New Paper in an interview outside the Mount Kinabalu Guides And Porters Centre.
He added that they did not want to leave her there in case more rocks fell during the aftershocks.
At about 5.30pm, the guides put the body on a stretcher and 10 of them, including Mr Lokong, took turns to carry her down the hiking trail.
There were at least four people carrying the stretcher at a time as they made their way down to Timpohon Gate, about 6km away.
"The body wasn't heavy but we had to make sure she didn't fall off or hit anything," said Mr Lokong.
"The ground was rocked by aftershocks as we made our way through the jungle."
Night had started to fall about an hour into their journey, making it difficult to see where they were going.
"As I carried the body down, my heart was feeling great pain that a young life had been lost," said Mr Lokong, who has children of his own.
"It was not just a body I was carrying down. She was someone's child."
They finally reached the foothills of Mount Kinabalu at 10pm, descending nearly 1.5km on the way.
THE SOCIAL MEDIA SENSATION
A picture of a mountain guide carrying a boy on his back has been widely shared online.
It was symbolic of the heroism of the mountain guides who risked life and limb to rescue stranded hikers.
But Mr Rizuan Kauhinin, 25, had little idea about his online fame. He even seemed abashed to be interviewed by the media.
Speaking of his deed that many have called heroic, Mr Kauhinin said he was simply doing what he had to.
"I just wanted to bring the boy to safety," he told The New Paper.
He said he found the boy, believed to be a Tanjong Katong Primary School pupil, near the Villosa Shelter at KM 4.9 of the Mount Kinabalu Summit Trail.
The boy could not walk because he had injured his back and left hand.
Mr Kauhinin and a few other guides gave the boy some food and water before he lifted the boy and put him on his back, securing him with a harness.
He tried to run as quickly as possible to get the boy to safety so his injuries could be tended to and also because he was worried of even more rockfall in case of aftershocks.
"The boy kept moaning in pain during the journey, so when I got to Layang-Layang Hut (at the KM1 mark), we transferred him to a stretcher," he said.
When asked why he went up the mountain to help despite the risk of getting hurt in the aftershocks, he said it was what he was supposed to do.
"As mountain guides, our own safety is secondary. When guests enter Kinabalu Park, they are under our care and we must do our very best."
In his 12 years' flying, Laban Rata near the peak of Mount Kinabalu has been one of the most difficult places he's had to land, said search-and-rescue helicopter pilot Ahmad Fissol.
The 36-year-old pilot with the Malaysian Fire Department said the rescue last Friday was made more difficult because of strong winds, heavy cloud cover and the small landing space.
Rescue efforts yesterday were again hampered by heavy cloud cover, which left only half the mountain visible for most of the day.
"We drop rescuers somewhere near the top so they don't have to climb up, which helps them to conserve energy that can be focused on the search efforts," said Captain Fissol.
Since last Friday, he has made more than two dozen trips up and down the mountain to drop off rescuers.
On Saturday, he picked up six of the nine bodies that were found near the via ferrata trail, a majority of them Singaporeans.
It was challenging to land because of the high winds, he said.
"I tried to land the helicopter three times before I was successful on the fourth."
And even then, he could not fully land and rescuers on the ground had only a minute to load six bodies on the MI171 helicopter.
"After we lifted off, the winds were blowing my helicopter to the left, so I had no choice but to let it drift a bit before dipping down and picking up speed again," he added.
"If there had been a mountain there, we could have been in trouble."
Capt Fissol said that three of the bodies were placed on racks which doubled up as stretchers and the other three were put on the cabin floor.
He was showing The New Paper around his helicopter at a makeshift airfield in Kundasang, about 10 minutes' drive from Kinabalu Park.
From Laban Rata, it was a 20-minute flight to Kota Kinabalu International Airport, where he was met by an ambulance that took the bodies to the mortuary at Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
Asked about the grim cargo, he said it humbled him as a rescuer.
"I came here expecting to see survivors but was later told I'd have to pick up bodies," he said.
"I felt sad that we couldn't find more survivors. But even if it were a body, we must bring it home."