Sabah quake: Traumatised Tanjong Katong Primary pupils return home

RIGHT: Primary Six pupil Ronan Lim fell and sprained his ankle in the rush and a Malaysian guide carried him the rest of the way down the mountain. BELOW: A distraught pupil from Tanjong Katong Primary School arriving at Changi Airport yesterday.
RIGHT: Primary Six pupil Ronan Lim fell and sprained his ankle in the rush and a Malaysian guide carried him the rest of the way down the mountain. BELOW: A distraught pupil from Tanjong Katong Primary School arriving at Changi Airport yesterday.ST PHOTOS: CHEW SENG KIM
RIGHT: Primary Six pupil Ronan Lim fell and sprained his ankle in the rush and a Malaysian guide carried him the rest of the way down the mountain. BELOW: A distraught pupil from Tanjong Katong Primary School arriving at Changi Airport yesterday.
RIGHT: Primary Six pupil Ronan Lim fell and sprained his ankle in the rush and a Malaysian guide carried him the rest of the way down the mountain. BELOW: A distraught pupil from Tanjong Katong Primary School arriving at Changi Airport yesterday.ST PHOTOS: CHEW SENG KIM

19 pupils reunited with families; two others and teacher will return to S'pore today

SINGAPORE - Primary Six pupil Ronan Lim was sleeping in a hut on Mount Kinabalu when he was woken up by tremors at about 7.15am last Friday.

The 12-year-old had been resting in the hut with his schoolmates from Tanjong Katong Primary School (TKPS) because he was unwell.

"I asked my friends what had happened," he said. "Then we ran down."

He fell and sprained his ankle in the rush and a Malaysian guide carried him the rest of the way.

Ronan was one of 19 TKPS pupils who arrived home from Kota Kinabalu yesterday afternoon, to the relief of relatives and friends.

Two other pupils and one teacher, who require more medical attention in Kota Kinabalu, will return to Singapore today, said the Ministry of Education.

Some of the pupils' families and friends were at Changi Airport's Terminal 2 as early as an hour ahead of the 3.05pm scheduled arrival time yesterday.

Their parents were ushered into a holding room while other relatives and well-wishers - including former pupils and members of the school's Parent Support Group - waited outside.

The mood was sombre during the wait, even among those not directly related to the children. Many were teary-eyed.

At around 4pm, the children were reunited with their parents behind closed doors and then quickly ushered out of the room in small groups.

Many were wrapped in blankets and several were sobbing. One boy was in a wheelchair, with his right leg in a cast. Most of the families declined to speak to the media.

Ronan's father, 50-year-old Lim Chong Hee, a heart surgeon, said his son, who sometimes suffers from chest pains at high altitude, had been resting in the sick bay when the quake occurred.

He first heard of the quake from Ronan. "Somebody gave him a phone, and the first thing he did was to call," Dr Lim said.

"This thing... is unforeseen. It's never happened before. It's a freak accident."

A 46-year-old man who declined to be named said his nephew was at a rest stop at about 3,350m up the mountain when the quake struck.

"He ran out. However, not everyone did," he said. "Some of his schoolmates were too tired and felt unwell."

The boy was eventually led to the foot of the mountain safely and treated at Gleneagles Hospital in Kota Kinabalu.

He was one of those who arrived home yesterday, but his uncle declined to give the boy's name. "The boy had a traumatic experience and saw things a 12-year-old should not have to see," he said.

Mr Hafiz Ahman, 43, a teacher, said his niece, Amal Ashley Lim, 12, had been in constant contact with their family since the quake. She was also among the 19 who returned to Singapore yesterday.

"I think she's quite shaken because she and another girl were pushed under an overhang but they saw other pupils falling down," he said.

"A teacher told them to stay there and went out to look for the others. He never came back."

linettel@sph.com.sg

leepearl@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Melissa Lin