Sabah quake: One year on

It's been hard but trainers coping well

Trainer Hilary Hendry Augustinus (right) speaking with quake victim Sonia Jhala's parents Karen and Jaidipsinh at TKPS last year.
Trainer Hilary Hendry Augustinus (right) speaking with quake victim Sonia Jhala's parents Karen and Jaidipsinh at TKPS last year.ST FILE PHOTO

Moments before an earthquake shook Mount Kinabalu on June 5 last year, adventure trainer Hilary Hendry Augustinus from Malaysian mountaineering company Mountain Torq recalled the Tanjong Katong Primary School (TKPS) pupils in his group taking selfies and chatting happily among themselves.

That morning, the 35-year-old, who had been tasked with taking pictures for his employer's Facebook page, was leading the first of five groups of pupils up a simplified Via Ferrata route on the mountain when disaster struck.

A 5.9-magnitude earthquake sent rocks - some the size of houses - raining down on the group.

Later, Mr Augustinus, who injured his back and right knee, found out that his friends and colleagues Valerian Joannes and Ricky Masirin, who were among the five trainers leading the TKPS expedition, had been killed. Two other trainers - Mr James Maikol, 30, and Mr Hajiris Sulomin, 41 - had survived.

It has not been an easy year since for Mr Augustinus, whose livelihood was affected when Mount Kinabalu closed for a few months following the disaster. The mountain was fully reopened only in December last year.

But the Malaysian is thankful for the support from many people, including strangers from Singapore. He said: "It makes me want to be better and stronger for them."

Like him, other mountain guides and trainers are slowly moving on. In the aftermath of the quake, they have received support in various forms such as the Sabah Earthquake Fund, set up in response to requests from the public here. From the donations collected, a portion, or $100,000, was split between the Mountain Torq trainers and Sabah mountain guides.

Mountain Torq trainers told The Sunday Times that they are touched by the concern from Singaporeans. Mr Sulomin will use the donations to support his wife and children, while Mr Augustinus and Mr Maikol will keep the money for future needs. Right now, the trio are focused on adjusting back to work.

When contacted, the families of the two Mountain Torq trainers who died in the quake said they are coming to terms with their loss.

Student Jennifer Masirin, 28, whose brother Ricky was among those killed, said: "I miss having him around, but I believe he is now an angel watching over us."

According to Sabah Parks, climbers have been trickling back to Mount Kinabalu since it fully reopened in December. There were more than 3,300 climbers in April, up from around 2,000 a month between December and February. Before the closure, it saw 5,000 to 6,000 climbers a month.

Kinabalu Park manager Yassin Miki said that since the quake in June last year, about 140 aftershocks have been recorded.

But these have not stopped tourists from scaling the mountain, he said. "I believe more tourists will come, especially when the visitor facilities are back in full operation."

Mountain Torq marketing director Quek I-Gek, 43, said its trainers, who take groups only through the Via Ferrata routes, are coping well.

"They were really happy when the mountain reopened. It meant that they could return to earning their livelihood as their families depend on them for financial support. Plus, they like living on the mountain. For them, life goes on," she said.

Calvin Yang

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 05, 2016, with the headline 'It's been hard but trainers coping well'. Print Edition | Subscribe