Sabah quake: 9 Singaporeans feared dead as more bodies are recovered from Mount Kinabalu

ABOVE: Emotions running high at Changi Airport yesterday as parents reunited with their children who had gone to Mount Kinabalu on a school trip. LEFT: Members of a Malaysian Fire and Rescue Department team with a bag containing part of a body retrie
ABOVE: Emotions running high at Changi Airport yesterday as parents reunited with their children who had gone to Mount Kinabalu on a school trip. LEFT: Members of a Malaysian Fire and Rescue Department team with a bag containing part of a body retrieved from Mount Kinabalu. The number of bodies being recovered continues to rise.PHOTO: EPA ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM
ABOVE: Emotions running high at Changi Airport yesterday as parents reunited with their children who had gone to Mount Kinabalu on a school trip. LEFT: Members of a Malaysian Fire and Rescue Department team with a bag containing part of a body retrie
ABOVE: Emotions running high at Changi Airport yesterday as parents reunited with their children who had gone to Mount Kinabalu on a school trip. LEFT: Members of a Malaysian Fire and Rescue Department team with a bag containing part of a body retrieved from Mount Kinabalu. The number of bodies being recovered continues to rise.PHOTO: EPA ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

More bodies retrieved from Mount Kinabalu, identification process under way

SINGAPORE - Anxiety has turned to dread and adventure into tragedy as the number of bodies recovered from Mount Kinabalu continues to rise.

After the earthquake last Friday morning sent rocks hurtling into climbers, one Singaporean is confirmed dead and nine are missing.

As evening fell, the Malaysian authorities said only six climbers were unaccounted for while 13 bodies had been found.

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, who spent the day receiving returning Singaporean students from Kota Kinabalu and sending off the relatives of those still missing, said: "My heart is heavy to learn that several bodies have been recovered. We're not able to confirm if they are our students and teachers - but whether they are our students and teachers or not, they are loved and missed by their families."

Late last night, the Ministry of Education issued another brief statement to say: "Our ground officers in Kota Kinabalu reported that the Malaysian authorities have recovered more bodies today. The process of identification is still ongoing and we are unable to confirm the identities of the bodies. We are making arrangements on the ground, and supporting the families of the students and staff of Tanjong Katong Primary School in every way possible."

Singapore's toll could be higher as 13 bodies have been found - many of them belonging to children - but several are yet to be identified by their distraught relatives.

So far, from Singapore, only the body of 12-year-old Tanjong Katong Primary School (TKPS) pupil Peony Wee Ying Ping has been identified.

Six other pupils and two teachers from her school are listed as missing, as is 22-year-old climbing instructor Muhammad Daanish Amran, who had accompanied the school's expedition.

The school had sent a team of 29 pupils and eight teachers on a field trip to Kota Kinabalu and was one of three Singapore schools to have done so.

At 12.20am yesterday, all 58 students and eight teachers from Greenridge Secondary and Fuchun Secondary landed safely. The team from TKPS, which bore the brunt of the quake, landed at Terminal 2 around 4pm. They were greeted by their relatives as well as Mr Heng. Applause broke out and tears of relief flowed when the children - some with their limbs in a sling - rushed into their parents' arms.

But earlier in the day, Mr Heng had met a far more disconsolate group of parents at Paya Lebar Air Base when a Republic of Singapore Air Force plane flew relatives of missing and injured Singaporeans to Kota Kinabalu.

"It has been a very difficult time for everyone," said Mr Heng.

Later in the evening, he said he had spoken to Sabah Tourism Minister Masidi Manjun, who was overseeing the rescue operations.

Mr Masidi, himself, was distraught when he spoke to reporters.

"It is very sad. The Singapore children were so happy when they arrived, but now..." he said, trailing off.

Kota Kinabalu has been a popular vacation destination for Singa- pore's schools and its students accounted for the bulk of of the casualties of last Friday's quake.

At the Gleneagles Kota Kinabalu Hospital, chief executive Francois Naa said: "Since yesterday, we have seen 20 patients, all from Singapore. Two were treated as outpatients, another 13 were admitted and discharged while the rest are in stable condition."

Many of the students were attempting the popular Via Ferrata trail when the quake struck last Friday. Normally a physically demanding but problem-free route, it has no vegetation on the rock face.

This meant that when the quake struck, there was no shelter from the boulders crashing towards the climbers.

"Rocks were raining down fast, like rocks blasting," 60-year-old Lee Yoke Fah told Agence France- Presse.

Once the cascade stopped, rescuers managed to escort 137 hikers to safety.

Most managed to dodge the shower of stone and some sustained minor injuries. There were others pinned under tonnes of rock.

"We can see the body parts," said one rescuer. But retrieving them is "almost impossible", he added.

The authorities, meanwhile, have decided to shut down Mount Kinabalu to climbers for at least three weeks.

rahulp@sph.com.sg