Sabah quake: Bodies of 5 Tanjong Katong Primary pupils, 1 teacher flown back

Family members of Tanjong Katong Primary School pupils outside the mortuary in Kota Kinabalu. The bodies of five more pupils and one teacher from the school have been identified, the Ministry of Education confirmed on Sunday, June 7, 2015. -- ST PHOT
Family members of Tanjong Katong Primary School pupils outside the mortuary in Kota Kinabalu. The bodies of five more pupils and one teacher from the school have been identified, the Ministry of Education confirmed on Sunday, June 7, 2015. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
Family members of Tanjong Katong Primary School pupils outside the mortuary in Kota Kinabalu. The bodies of five more pupils and one teacher from the school have been identified, the Ministry of Education confirmed on Sunday, June 7, 2015. -- ST PHOT
Family members of Tanjong Katong Primary School pupils outside the mortuary in Kota Kinabalu. The bodies of five more pupils and one teacher from the school have been identified, the Ministry of Education confirmed on Sunday, June 7, 2015. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
Family members of Tanjong Katong Primary School pupils outside the mortuary in Kota Kinabalu. The bodies of five more pupils and one teacher from the school have been identified, the Ministry of Education confirmed on Sunday, June 7, 2015. -- ST PHOT
Family members of Tanjong Katong Primary School pupils outside the mortuary in Kota Kinabalu. The bodies of five more pupils and one teacher from the school have been identified, the Ministry of Education confirmed on Sunday, June 7, 2015. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
Family members of Tanjong Katong Primary School pupils outside the mortuary in Kota Kinabalu. The bodies of five more pupils and one teacher from the school have been identified, the Ministry of Education confirmed on Sunday, June 7, 2015. -- ST PHOT
Family members of Tanjong Katong Primary School pupils outside the mortuary in Kota Kinabalu. The bodies of five more pupils and one teacher from the school have been identified, the Ministry of Education confirmed on Sunday, June 7, 2015. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
Families of the deceased and other personnel, ushered by staff members from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, preparing to board a Singapore Armed Forces airplane headed for Singapore at the Kota Kinabalu airport on June 7, 2015. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHE
Families of the deceased and other personnel, ushered by staff members from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, preparing to board a Singapore Armed Forces airplane headed for Singapore at the Kota Kinabalu airport on June 7, 2015. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
Families of the deceased and other personnel, ushered by staff members from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, preparing to board a Singapore Armed Forces airplane headed for Singapore at the Kota Kinabalu airport on June 7, 2015. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHE
Families of the deceased and other personnel, ushered by staff members from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, preparing to board a Singapore Armed Forces airplane headed for Singapore at the Kota Kinabalu airport on June 7, 2015. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
Families of the deceased and other personnel, ushered by staff members from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, preparing to board a Singapore Armed Forces airplane headed for Singapore at the Kota Kinabalu airport on June 7, 2015. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHE
Families of the deceased and other personnel, ushered by staff members from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, preparing to board a Singapore Armed Forces airplane headed for Singapore at the Kota Kinabalu airport on June 7, 2015. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

SINGAPORE - The bodies of five more pupils and one teacher from Tanjong Katong Primary School (TKPS) have been identified, the Ministry of Education (MOE) confirmed on Sunday (June 7) as it gave more details on what happened before a 6.0-magnitude quake struck on Friday (June 5).

As of Sunday, six pupils and one teacher are confirmed to have died. The Singaporean adventure guide who was with them on the field trip to Mount Kinabalu died too.

In Kota Kinabalu on Sunday, distraught family members of the victims were seen leaving the mortuary, accompanied by officials from Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

At about 4.45pm, four ambulances bearing coffins left the funeral parlour under police escort. The Education Ministry said in a Sunday night update that the bodies of the five pupils, teacher and guide were returning to Singapore on a Republic of Singapore Airforce (RSAF) C-130 aircraft. Their next-of-kin were to return on another RSAF C-130 aircraft.

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said in an update on Sunday night that almost all the families are back. He wrote in a Facebook post that the mood at Paya Lebar Airbase "was sombre, but there was also a lot of love and support".

One male pupil is still in intensive care at Gleneagles Kota Kinabalu Hospital. His condition is critical but stable.

The victims were part of a group of 24 pupils and eight teachers who had started on the trek up to the start of the Via Ferrata "Walk the Torq" route on Friday at about 4.30am. Five pupils stayed behind because they were feeling unwell.

Via Ferrata, or Iron Road in Italian, refers to a mountain route consisting of fixed cables, ladders and bridges.

The pupils were split into five groups for the trek. By 6.45am, they had arrived at the start point of the "Walk the Torq" route to start on activities, MOE said at a briefing on Sunday afternoon. At 7am, they started on the route.

Three groups, comprising about 12 to 15 pupils, five teachers and at least three instructors, were on the route when the quake struck at about 7.15am. Most of the victims were from these three groups.

At that time, the last two groups were just about to get onto the route. Teachers who were with these two groups got the pupils to huddle and stay low while they tried to shield the children.

They saw boulders coming down from the mountain top.

When the tremors stopped, the teachers checked on the pupils, and instructors got those who were able to move to descend the mountain.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, some parents have questioned whether the route is too tough on primary school pupils.

At the briefing, the ministry said the "Walk the Torq" route, which takes two to three hours to complete, is designed for those aged 10 and above, and has a height requirement of 1.3m.

Measures, such as safety briefings, were in place. Pupils were also equipped with helmets and safety harnesses, among other things.

TKPS has been using the route for seven years, said the ministry. Other primary and secondary schools, and at least one international school, also bring students to this route. 

No one from the schools here has been hurt while using the route since 2007 when it first opened, MOE added.

Earlier on Sunday, MOE released the names of those killed in the tragedy.

They are: Ameer Ryyan bin Mohd Adeed Sanjay, Emilie Giovanna Ramu, Matahom Karyl Mitzi Higuit, Rachel Ho Yann Shiuan, Sonia Jhala and teacher Loo Jian Liang Terrence Sebastian.

A Singaporean adventure guide, Muhammad Daanish bin Amran, who accompanied the students, has also been identified.

Operations are continuing to locate the remaining one student Navdeep Singh Jaryal S/O Raj Kumar, and teacher Mohammad Ghazi Bin Mohamed.

As of Sunday, six pupils from Singapore have been confirmed dead, including Peony Wee Ying Ping, 12, whose death was confirmed on Saturday (June 6).

In Kota Kinabalu on Sunday, distraught family members of the victims were seen leaving the mortuary, accompanied by officials from Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

At about 4.45pm, four ambulances bearing coffins left the funeral parlour under police escort.

At about 6.30pm, some family members left Kota Kinabalu on a C-130 plane.

In Singapore, alumni and members of the public visited Tanjong Katong Primary School on Sunday, after the school set up a site for people to pen notes of hope for those still not found.

The site will remain open until Tuesday, June 9.

Gynaecologist Satya Tiwari, 50, made a trip down to the school with her four children - all of whom were pupils at the school.

"The school is like our family. All the teachers are very professional and caring," said a tearful Dr Satya, who has had two of her daughters go on the annual Mount Kinabalu hike, in 2012 and 2013.

"This was a freak accident, it was unforeseen. When we heard the news, our hearts were broken."

This is the full statement issued by the ministry on Sunday:

We are deeply saddened to inform that the bodies recovered by the Malaysian authorities have been identified by their next-of-kin as five students and one teacher from Tanjong Katong Primary School. They are:

1. Ameer Ryyan bin Mohd Adeed Sanjay

2. Emilie Giovanna Ramu

3. Loo Jian Liang Terrence Sebastian (Teacher)

4. Matahom Karyl Mitzi Higuit

5. Rachel Ho Yann Shiuan

6. Sonia Jhala

A Singaporean adventure guide, Muhammad Daanish bin Amran, who accompanied the students, has also been identified.

Operations are continuing to locate the remaining one student Navdeep Singh Jaryal S/O Raj Kumar, and one teacher Mohammad Ghazi Bin Mohamed.

MOE and other government officials are in Kota Kinabalu, and are providing assistance and support to the families during this difficult period.

Arrangements are being made for the family members and the bodies of the deceased to be flown back to Singapore as soon as possible.

amirh@sph.com.sg

dansonc@sph.com.sg