Stranded Hokkaido hikers endured extreme conditions

Rescuers are seen in a video grab with the four stranded hikers, including Singaporean Amelda Lim and her Malaysian husband Long Ji Yung, as they get ready to be airlifted from Asahidake early Wednesday morning.
Rescuers are seen in a video grab with the four stranded hikers, including Singaporean Amelda Lim and her Malaysian husband Long Ji Yung, as they get ready to be airlifted from Asahidake early Wednesday morning.PHOTO: HOKKAIDO SHIMBUN/YOUTUBE

A wintry honeymoon nearly took a deadly turn for Singaporean Amelda Lim, 28, and her Malaysian husband after they were stranded on Hokkaido's tallest peak on Tuesday.

But their survival smarts and acquaintance with Japanese couple Masahiko Kato, 71, and his wife Yumiko, 65, led to their being found conscious nearly 22 chilly hours after their first distress call on the 2,291m-tall Asahidake.

Overcome with fatigue and as nightfall and low visibility rendered evacuations by air difficult, the four spent Wednesday night up on the mountain under the watch of emergency rescuers, who provided them with thermal insulation and tents.

They were airlifted by helicopter at 6.10am yesterday (5.10am Singapore time) to the nearby Asahikawa Medical University Hospital.

Ms Lim, an interior designer, and her husband Long Ji Yung, 27, who are now recuperating, did not respond to a Straits Times request for an interview by press time.

According to their LinkedIn profiles, Mr Long is an accounts executive at travel agency JTB Singapore, while Ms Lim works as a senior designer at the Siren Design Group.

HARSH CONDITIONS

The 'feels like' temperature in the vicinity was -20 deg C, with extremely low visibility. Given the harsh environment, we are extremely thankful that the four were found safe and sound.

GROUND SELF-DEFENCE FORCE MEMBER who was involved in the search operation.

A colleague of Ms Lim's, who declined to be named, told The Straits Times: "She is fine. Amelda has updated us via WhatsApp that she is recuperating in hospital."

When asked about Ms Lim's condition, the colleague added that it was "definitely not critical".

Mr Long's colleagues at JTB Singapore also confirmed to The Straits Times that he is in Japan on a honeymoon, and that he is in hospital.

The newlyweds, together with Mr and Mrs Kato from Yokohama, were found near a water source some 1.5km south-east of Asahidake's ropeway station, about 1,600m above sea level, after rescuers spotted a headlamp amid heavy snow.

"All of us are alive," Mr Kato, who works in hospital management, shouted out to cheers from the team of emergency rescuers, according to the Hokkaido Shimbun.

The two couples had survived a day with barely any food and without a tent amid sub-zero temperatures as low as -7 deg C. Snow cover in the area was 30cm to 40cm, the report added.

The leader of Hokkaido police headquarters Kazutaka Nishimura told NHK: "The four took cover in a mortar-bowl shaped structure that was sheltered from the wind, and waited there. As they kept still without moving, they did not wear out their physical strength and I believe this is what led to their survival."

A member of the Ground Self-Defence Force who was involved in the search operation added: "The 'feels like' temperature in the vicinity was -20 deg C, with extremely low visibility. Given the harsh environment, we are extremely thankful that the four were found safe and sound."

An unseasonal cold front has caused temperatures to fall throughout Japan this week. According to the Sapporo District Meteorological Observatory, the temperatures on Asahidake would have been typical only in mid-to-late November.

Asahidake towers over a hot springs resort of the same name in Higashikawa town in central Hokkaido. Mr Long and Ms Lim had met the Japanese couple while on the mountain. They took a wrong turn near the seventh station and soon found themselves stranded.

Mr Kato first phoned the police at about 7.35pm on Tuesday. Both he and Ms Lim also called the police after 8am on Wednesday to report all four were conscious and alive. However, Mr Long was showing symptoms of hypothermia.

The Hokkaido Shimbun reported that Mr Long had to be stretchered into the hospital, while the other three walked in "with a steady gait".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 20, 2017, with the headline 'Stranded Hokkaido hikers endured extreme conditions'. Print Edition | Subscribe