Sabah quake: Singaporean victim Peony Wee says 'bye' to parents in poignant video before quake

Peony (in white) celebrating her sixth birthday with her parents and brother, Chester. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF ALSON WEE
Peony (in white) celebrating her sixth birthday with her parents and brother, Chester. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF ALSON WEE
Peony Wee, the 12-year-old Tanjong Katong Primary School pupil who died in the Sabah earthquake. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF ALSON WEE
Peony Wee, the 12-year-old Tanjong Katong Primary School pupil who died in the Sabah earthquake. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF ALSON WEE
Peony Wee, the 12-year-old Tanjong Katong Primary School pupil who died in the Sabah earthquake. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF ALSON WEE
Peony Wee, the 12-year-old Tanjong Katong Primary School pupil who died in the Sabah earthquake. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF ALSON WEE

SINGAPORE - At the end of a video on a blog documenting her Kota Kinabalu expedition, Tanjong Katong Primary School pupil Peony Wee waved at the camera and said "bye" to her parents.

Beside her, a schoolmate said: "We're safe here in Malaysia lah."

They laughed and giggled throughout the video, which was uploaded on June 4, as they talked about waking up in the cold on Mount Kinabalu.

In the video, they were asked about their "expectations of the day".

"Reach Pendant Hut safely, as a group (laughter) we have to motivate each other... see nobody give up along the way," said Peony's schoolmate.

Peony interjected: "Help each other."

That was one day before a 6.0-magnitude earthquake struck Sabah on Friday (June 5), killing 12-year-old Peony and some of her young friends.

As of Sunday (June 7), six pupils and one teacher from the school are confirmed to have died. The Singaporean adventure guide who was with them also died. Another pupil and a teacher are still unaccounted for.

The victims were part of a group of 29 pupils and eight teachers on an overseas learning journey.

They were starting on Via Ferrata when the quake struck, sending rocks and boulders tumbling down from the mountain top. Via Ferrata, which means Iron Road in Italian, is a route where cables, metal rungs and bridges are set into the rocks to help climbers ascend the steep trail.

The school blog, titled 'It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves', documented the group's progress before that fateful day.

The pupils were in high spirits as they prepared to ascend the 4,095-m high Mount Kinabalu. The expedition, called Omega Challenge, is an annual programme organised by the school for their student leaders and sport leaders.

An entry in mid-May showed the participants training for their trek by climbing steps while wearing backpacks.

When they left on June 3, their flight was delayed. But they updated later: "After the long delay, we are finally here!"

In a subsequent post on the same day titled 'Dinner at D ' Villa Lodge', pupils and teachers grinned at the camera as they ate dinner.

"What a day! Tomorrow, we will start our hike up to Mount Kinabalu!," said the post.

The next morning, they were up bright and early to start a roughly 6km hike to Pendant Hut, which is 3,289m above sea level.

The checkpoint is where climbers stay before they attempt the challenging Via Ferrata route.

A blog post on June 4, titled 'Getting ready...moving off soon... Pendant Hunt, here we come!', showed several pictures of the group making preparations.

The final entry was "Reached! Pendant Hut" posted on the same day.

"Though it was an exhausting hike to Pendant Hut, step by step, inch by inch, we All made it up!" said the post.

"It wasn't easy but they all succeeded getting up there. How did they make it up? How did they endure the cold wind and rain? How did they overcome the steepness of the mountain?

"The answer? Each other. They encouraged each other. They helped their friends by retrieving water bottles from their bags when it was hard to reach. They checked in with their friends by asking 'How are you?', 'Are you okay?' They were effective. They pressed on. They utilised each other to give them strength. Eventually, they reached Pendant Hut. Together."

The post ended with: "Tomorrow, we will take on the next challenge. VIA FERRATA! Bring it on, I say!"

chuimin@sph.com.sg