Sabah quake: Wife of hero guide Robbi Sapinggi returned from Britain with child to be with him

KOTA BELUD (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Just when they finally had the chance to be a family again, tragedy struck.

"Hero mountain guide" Robbi Sapinggi, 31, who lost his life saving a tourist during an earthquake at Sabah's Mount Kinabalu last Friday, had been separated from his wife Reena Joshi, 32, for a few months after their wedding in September because she had to return to England unexpectedly.

Medical student Joshi said she first met Mr Sapinggi more than seven years ago while she was travelling in Sabah and happened to pass through his village of Kampung Kiau Nuluh in Kota Belud.

He and his father were the tour guides when she and her group went up Mount Kinabalu.

"We decided to pursue a relationship a few years later and ended up getting married last September in Sabah," she told The Star.

Ms Joshi said that because they practised different faiths, they decided to tie the knot at Mr Sapinggi's home instead of a place of worship.

She said she had to return to England due to matters between her and her family last year. She was not even able to return to Sabah to give birth to her son, now aged six months.

"Because of the health of the child, I had to stay in England for a set period, after which it was okay to travel.

"I now live in Cornwall but I move all over the country due to my studies and work," she said.

Ms Joshi said she had flown in from England with her son with the intention of staying in Sabah for the long-term.

The couple's plans were crushed by Friday's earthquake tragedy. Mr Sapinggi lost his life while rescuing a tourist under his care during the devastating quake.

When asked how she felt about her husband's sacrifice, Ms Joshi said it was just "one of his attributes".

"He was a real character and fun loving. He would go out of his way to do anything and everything for everybody. He always put others first before himself.

"He was a great husband, and he's a father now. He was a very, very caring father. He was always smiling, that was the best thing about him," said Ms Joshi with a weak smile between the tears.

On whether she would raise their son in Sabah, Ms Joshi said she was unsure if she would continue staying in Sabah following the tragedy.

"Following recent events, I'm really unsure, to be honest. I just hope his name and his legacy remain in the tourism industry. He was a good man," she said of her heroic husband.

Throughout the funeral wake, Ms Joshi was seen being brave and keeping her composure.

However, the bereaved wife completely broke down as villagers lowered Mr Sapinggi's casket into his final resting place.

His employers Amazing Borneo have started a crowdfunding campaign for him. In 24 hours, they had raised more than RM93,000 (S$33,600).