Sabah quake: 12-year-old Sonia died fulfilling a passion for rock climbing

SINGAPORE - Her obituary reads that she "climbed the mountain and found the stairway to heaven".

Twelve-year-old Sonia Jhala died fulfilling her love of rock climbing, her father Jaidipsinh Jhala, 48, told The Straits Times after her cremation on Wednesday afternoon.

The Tanjong Katong Primary School (TKPS) pupil died on a school expedition to Mount Kinabalu when last Friday's 6.0 magnitude quake struck Sabah.

Seven pupils and two teachers from the school are now known to have died.

"She gave us 12 full and wonderful years, and she did everything she wanted to do in those 12 years, including netball and water-skiing," said Mr Jhala, who is in the safety training business.

"She had wanted to do rock climbing and she passed away doing that."

Sonia had been looking forward to the trip to Mount Kinabalu since she was 10. The active netball player had worked hard to be selected for it.

Mr Jhala and his wife Karen, 48, flew to Kota Kinabalu after the earthquake and found out about their daughter when another parent showed him a picture taken at the rescue site with Sonia in it. "That was when we knew she was longer with us," he said.

Mr Jhala added that Sonia had a beautiful smile, and often showed compassion to the people around her. "She would help the elderly across the street or give up her seat on the bus," he said.

Sonia was the youngest in her family. She had two siblings, sister Karishma, 19, and brother Dillen, 16.

Service Hall 4 at Mandai Crematorium was packed as Mr Jhala delivered his eulogy.

He said that the worst thing to happen to a parent is to lose a child. But he thanked relatives and close friends for offering the family their support over the last few days, adding that they would get through the loss.

Mr Jhala also extended his appreciation to his daughter's school. TKPS principal Caroline Wu listened tearfully among the mourners.

Earlier in the day, hundreds turned up for a funeral service at the Church of Our Lady Perpetual Succour at Siglap Hill. Among them were pupils who had gone on the same trip to Mount Kinabalu as well as school staff, family and friends.

"We have our moments, when we remember something about her and we break down, but it is all part of the grieving process," said Mr Jhala. "But we are coping well and we will be fine."