Mount Kinabalu is and still one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever visited and set foot upon. It is a place that I will continue to visit for as long as my health and fitness permit. Some may say it is easy to climb the mountain, but I have a lot of respect on it. Though my first 2 climbs back in 1990 and 1992 where it took me 4 hours or so from Timpohon Gate to Laban Rata, to me it was quite a feat. The other 2 more climbs in 2005 and 2006, took me 7 hours! Yes, been up there 3 times and in 2005 my group didn’t manage to reach Low’s Peak due to heavy rain and had to turned back at Syat Syat. I have a lot of beautiful memories about this mountain and its surrounding areas. That’s why I mentioned earlier, will be back there again and again. In fact I am now digging out all the photos of my past visit to Mount Kinabalu and tried to recall those climbs. Then I will blog it here once I have sufficient information of those past attempts. So please bear with me a little while.
I decided to blog something about this ‘Sabah earthquake’ as it involved Mount Kinabalu…
Friday 05/06/2015 0833hr, I just stepped into my office just like another working day, when one of my colleagues told me “earthquake eh”, and I said “yea, Sabah”. I heard it over the news in my car while on my way to work earlier but didn’t catch much details or the magnitude of the quake. I thought it was just another tremor that we Malaysian encountered every now and then, so nothing serious will happen. Malaysia is seismically stable, though tremors, mostly non-lethal can be felt, especially caused by those earthquakes in Sumatra, Indonesia and the Philippines in the past. So I thought it was just another those sort of ‘things’ and never give a second thought about it.
It was not until much later of the day, probably closed to lunch time that I discovered that this was not just the ‘normal thing’ we experienced on and off all these while, but it was a very serious and damaging kind of happening! I learned that the earthquake actually stricken Ranau with a magnitude of 5.9 or 6.0 and lasted for approximately 30 seconds, which left mountain climbers with their guides stranded or trapped on the plateau of Mount Kinabalu. Their euphoria of conquering the 4,095m Low’s Peak under a spectacular sunrise turned into a fright night for about 190 climbers and guides when the earthquake rocked at approximately 07:17hr, according to The Star Online. Initial reports from the Malaysian Meteorological Services Department at that point of time, said the quake struck 16km northwest of Ranau at 7.15am. The US Geological Survey put the Richter scale at 6.0, however no tsunami warning was issued. It also said that the strong quake struck at a depth of 10km, with its epicentre located 19km from the town of Ranau, and 54km from Kota Kinabalu which is the state capital. Apart from the state capital, the tremors were felt in the northern Kudat and Kota Marudu districts, and as far away Beaufort in the south. The tremors shook buildings and rattled windows prompting people to run out from their houses, shops, and even at the Kota Kinabalu International Airport terminal. The extent of damage cannot be immediately ascertained. It was also the strongest affecting Malaysia since 1976.
Then, probably after lunch time I learned that 2 people confirmed dead including a 12 year old school girl from Singapore. It seemed that tremors were felt in many parts of Sabah including Tambunan, Tuaran, Kota Kinabalu, Inanam, Kota Belud, Kota Marudu, Kudat, Likas, Penampang, Putatan, Papar, Beaufort, Keningau, Beluran, Sandakan, Kunak, Tawau etc etc, wow! This is real serious I thought to myself.
It actually hit Mount Kinabalu at 7.15am on that fateful day, where 238 people were on the mountain, with a group of more than a 100 people near the summit who were stranded because of a rockfall that damaged the trekking path down the mountain. Most of the casualties were hikers and mountain guides (malim gunung) on the ‘via Feratta’ route. This Feratta route is the latest route opened to hikers or tourists. It wasn’t ready during my last climb up the mountain in 2006. Then later according to another source, it was reported that a total of 151 people were trapped on the summit of Mount Kinabalu while the fate of 40 others on the Via Feratta route to the mountain remained unknown (at that point of time). Sadly, some 12 years old students and their teachers from a Tanjong Katong Primary School Singapore were climbing via this Feratta route. The 12 year old girl whom I mentioned earlier was from this group. There were another 21 students and 8 teachers from Fuchun and Greenridge secondary schools but they were luckier as all of them were safe. These three schools were here on an overseas learning journey. There were also about 39 to 42 Sabah Parks guides and workers with the climbers. Three of the rest houses and hostels – Panar Laban, Gunting Lagadan Hut and Laban Rata – were badly damaged.
Some of the damages and ruins along the path…
As of 15:00hr search were still continuing for 40 missing climbers. It was also reported that police and military aircrafts could not access the area due to severe weather conditions. Rescue helicopters had begun hovering over the mountain summit to bring trapped climbers to safety, but failed due to clouds and wind conditions had made it difficult to land on the plateau. Attempts to winch the unconscious and injured failed due to strong wind and thick clouds over the peak with zero visibility. Most of the stranded were along the KM7.5 to KM8.0, the main route for descending and was blocked by large rocks that fell during the tremors. At the same time too, search and rescue personnel were making their way up the mountain. Steps were being taken to send in food and clothing to the stranded victims as well.
Numerous reports from various sources were received such as race against time to reach trapped climbers, people were unconscious, guides were stucked in between boulders and rocks, mountain climbers remain stranded overnight in an icy cold plateau of the mountain etc etc… There were also reports as of 19:00hr about SAR officials at the foothill of Mount Kinabalu said of the 189 climbers/tourists and guides registered with the Sabah Parks, 63 of them including 3 injured climbers reached the Kinabalu Park base camp before night fall. The SAR officials also said the majority of those on the mountain were Malaysians with other nationalities included Singaporeans, United States, Philippines, United Kingdom, Thailand and at least one each from Turkey, China and Japan. There was fear that victims might face hypothermia due to freezing cold that could drop below zero. Rescuers feared that elderly climbers might not pull through the night if it rained with temperatures dropping further.
By evening many of the family members were seen holding prayer sessions and several friends of the Dusun guides were cursing the group of Westerners who a week before stripped and pissed on the sacred mountain. These were all I read about (online news) before I called it a day in the office. Hey, I know what you guys are thinking, I did do my daily duties in my work, only in between my short breaks I did some quick references to those online news to stay tuned on what happening about the earthquake.
The saddest news was probably on 10/06/2015, where 18 people of 5 nationalities were confirmed dead. This included the Singaporean teachers and students who were reportedly missing as confirmed by the Singaporean Ministry of Education with an official statement released on the same day. This also included the four Malaysian mountain guides who died while protecting the climbers. They were Robbi Sappingi, Valerian Joannes, Ricky Masirin and Joseph Solungin. If not mistaken, 4 other victims were still missing. I am also sadden to learn that one of the peaks on Mount Kinabalu – the Donkey’s Ears was broken off. I also heard that St. John Peak was also affected but do not have any confirmation on that, and I hope not.
Initially the mountain will be closed for at least three weeks so authorities can repair trails and facilities and assess safety risks. But then on 18/06/2015 there was a report that Mount Kinabalu is expected to be reopened to climbers only in early September, as quoted from Sabah Minister for Tourism, Culture and Environment Masidi Manjun. Masidi said, however, the number of people on the mountain at any one time would be reduced by about half, from 192 to about 90, in the early stages of its reopening to climbers.
So till then, Mount Kinabalu could take a break and sleep now. Have a good rest and free from disturbances from humans.
About those rescue missions by the authorities – police, fire department, military and their helicopters etc…
Many whine and complained about the late response by the military, Fire and Rescue Department, police etc. to rescue stranded climbers on top of Mount Kinabalu on that fateful day. An Australian climber even lambasted the Malaysian authorities to the world’s press. I am neither a pilot nor an expert in this subject but just want to take this opportunity to share something which I came across from a posting in Facebook. May be everyone will have a clearer picture on this subject.
The posting wrote about mountain wave’s turbulence which is an unseen nightmare that has brought down a number of airlines and helicopters. It is so violent (as written in the FB post) and unforgiving that the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) of the US had issued a specific instruction just for mountain flying.
“To safely fly above a mountain pass, the air craft need to have a clearance of at least 2,000 feet above the highest pass it need to cross. Furthermore mountain flying is not recommended if the winds aloft are greater than 25 knots as potentially dangerous turbulence as well as strong up and down drafts are likely to occur. Those (me included) who look at a mountain or Mount Kinabalu in this case, from far could see streams of clouds occasionally envelope the mountain. The picture below claimed that it was taken from one of the rescue helicopters that attempted to land at Laban Rata. This is a condition where visibility could change drastically and many pilots and passengers have perished thinking the visibility would remain clear all the time.
But the weather was clear and the stranded climbers could see all the way down! Did they watch what was above? Clear visibility also means high winds have pushed away the clouds. What you need to look above are those thin, long clouds that we who have our feet firmly planted on the ground and head that stays on our neck unlike those who suffer from psychosis call Lenticular clouds.
As you can see, beneath the lenticular clouds are what meteorologists call rotor – a turbulent horizontal vortex generated around the ‘troughs’ of mountain wave activity. Rotors could either push an aircraft upwards, or slam it down to the ground as shown in the diagram below. In the end, the helicopters did manage to land on Laban Rata to bring down bodies and some of the injured victims. Of course not to the instance wanted by the stranded climbers.
Yes, those Kinabalu Park guides were the heroes in this unfortunate tragedy, but why not the soldiers, firemen, police or the pilots? Those mountain guides were the ones with the best knowledge of the surrounding areas. Even when some normal routes or trails have been cut off, they would still be able to find their way up and down the mountain. They are the ones most familiar with the area. I salute them, as I salute the other rescuers who have and still risking their lives trying to bring down the stranded climbers as well as bodies of the victims.
So, stop whining and forget about what we used to watch on TV or movies where those heroes flying their helicopters ‘zig-zagging’ between mountain cliffs or even high rise buildings. Life does not work like how the directors of those movies want us to believe. “
Thank you, Mt Kinabalu heroes…
The teachers and mountain guides who risked their lives to protect and shield the victims of the Mount Kinabalu earthquake, including the young Tanjong Katong Primary School students, showcased great courage, bravery and humanity.
And it is this what the parents of those Singaporean students are thankful for. The parent of one of the student survivors shared that his daughter told him that the teachers protected their students despite being injured. Some teachers even physically shielded the students from falling rocks. Their Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong even declared a National Day of Remembrance.
Below are some pictures of the public offering condolences, tributes, floral and prayers to the victims and heroes…
Last but not least, our mountain guides or “malim gunung”…
Four mountain guides perished – Robbi Sapinggi, Valerian Joannes, Ricky Raymond @ Aby and Joseph Selungin.
Robbi Sapinggi was accompanying one of the climbers when he got hit by falling rocks. Despite being injured, Robbi’s only thought was for the welfare of his guest, urging his guest to continue ahead to climb down the mountain to safety. He bravely chose to remain alone and wait for help rather than to put the guest’s life at further risk. Unfortunately, Robbi was unable to make it down the mountain in time to receive proper medical attention and he died due to loss of blood.
Valerian Joannes, an employee of Mountain Torq, was the guide for students and teachers from Tanjong Katong Primary School Singapore. “I am leaving” were his final words to his father as they parted from a family gathering on 30 May. Valerian Joannes was supposed to get married in November. But his life was cut short when the earthquake strucked.
The 27-year-old Malaysian guide had been accompanying the group of Tanjong Katong Primary School students and teachers on their expedition on Mount Kinabalu where he was hit by falling rocks while saving his guests.
Joseph Selungin was last seen using his body as a shield for his guests, said Amazing Borneo Tours.
Mountain guide Ridwan was photographed as one of six people carrying a stretcher with a Singaporean boy who had sustained a shoulder injury. The photo of mountain guide Ridwan, posted on Sabah Park’s Facebook page, garnered over 9,000 Likes and 890 shares after three hours.
BRAVO TO ALL THE UNSUNG HEROES… …/tham.