Sabah quake: Lingering at summit kept them out of harm's way

CLIMBER Mohd Rahimi Hadzri and his companions lingered at the summit of Mount Kinabalu to take in the breathtaking views last Friday - an act that possibly saved their lives as an earthquake sent boulders hurtling down the slopes of the mountain, killing at least 16 people.

But the first thing that came to mind as Mr Rahimi flung himself onto the ground when the temblor began was: "Am I going to die on this mountain?"

The 28-year-old oil and gas worker from Miri in Sarawak was in a group of seven including his brother, cousins and friends who started their trek up the mountain on Thursday afternoon, reported the Malaysian Insider news website.

They reached the rest stop Laban Rata at 3pm where they stayed until 2am on Friday morning, when they began their climb to the summit in the near freezing temperature of 4 deg C, hitting the summit at 6.30am.

"We were the first group to leave Laban Rata for the top and were the last to leave the summit," Mr Rahimi told the Malaysian Insider by phone from Miri.

This meant that when the quake struck, the group would not have been in the area called Sayat Sayat Hut, a place that was flattened by a rockslide triggered by the quake and where some climbers and guides lost their lives.

They had just passed the 8km mark when they felt the mountain shake.

"The tremor knocked some of us off our feet while I threw myself on the ground because I couldn't balance myself on the shaking mountain," said Mr Rahimi.

At the behest of their guides, they made their way to Sayat Sayat Hut, but found it impassable and returned to the 8km mark where they were joined by other climbers.

They waited there for several hours for help to arrive, during which they went through a roller-coaster ride of emotions buoyed by hope when told that a helicopter would come for them, only to be deflated by news that the rescue was hampered by fog.

In the end, the guides decided they should try to descend themselves as help was not forthcoming. Mr Rahimi was among a group of 103 climbers that 32 mountain guides brought down to safety after a gruelling 12-hour all-night trek, said Malaysian Insider.

"It was the worst experience of my life so far. A really bad experience. I had not bargained for that when I wanted to climb the mountain," he said.