SINGAPORE: Tanjong Katong Primary School (TKPS) has organised school trips to Mount Kinabalu in Malaysia multiple times, and participants have successfully completed the hike for seven years, said the Ministry of Education (MOE) on Sunday (Jun 7).
During a technical briefing, it was revealed that at least one international school in Singapore has also organised trips to Mount Kinabalu for its students.
Six students and a teacher from the school, and a Singaporean adventure guide were among the 18 killed at Mount Kinabalu when a 5.9-magnitude earthquake struck Sabah state on Friday morning. One teacher and one student are still missing. The group of 29 students and eight teachers had gone to Mount Kinabalu for a leadership programme.
The student participants had undergone physical training such as climbing stairs to prepare for the trek. The climb was not a technically challenging one, though it could be physically tiring, said MOE.
No injuries have been reported on the route before, MOE added. The ministry attributed the presence of casualties to the earthquake.
Participants were all equipped with a helmet, shock-absorbing lanyards, harnesses and rope, and safety cables that are permanently bolted to the sides of the mountain. Each participant would have two red-coloured lanyards, both clipped to the safety cables. There would also be a yellow-coloured rope attached to other participants as a back-up for the lanyards.
On the day before the quake, according to the teachers' accounts, the group climbed from the starting point of Mount Kinabalu's parks headquarters to a resting area called Pendant Hut. Their plan was to have a short and simple activity before heading to the summit on the following day.
The briefing also revealed the moments leading up to the quake.
ACCOUNT OF EVENTS
6.45AM: TKPS students and teachers arrive at start point of the trail to prepare for the hike. Five instructors are present, and each instructor would lead a group of up to 10 people. Five students stay behind at Pendant Hut as they are not feeling well.
7.00AM: A total of 24 students and eight teachers begin their trek in smaller groups on the Walk the Torq route part of Via Ferrata - a protected mountain path that comprises a series of rungs, rails and cables on the rock face. Other TKPS students have gone through the Walk the Torq route successfully for seven years. They begin their trek earlier as mist is known to obscure visibility on the route from as early as 8.00am.
7.15AM: The last two teams are about to embark on the trek when the quake strikes. Three of the groups are already on Mount Kinabalu. They consist of at least 12 students and five teachers. All students already have their helmets and harnesses on.
The teachers with the teams say they immediately get the students to huddle and bend down, while they shield the children as boulders fall along the side of the mountain. When the earth movements stop, the instructors get the two teams to move down the mountain to safety.
None of the casualties were from the two teams which had not started on the trek. Most of the victims were likely to be members of the three groups that had set off on their trek first, said MOE officials.