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Sabah quake: Tearful reunion for survivors and mountain trainers at TKPS

SINGAPORE — He had looked forward to guiding the students from Tanjong Katong Primary School (TKPS) on Mount Kinabalu every year as they were “well-disciplined”, with “great spirit and teamwork”.

SINGAPORE — He had looked forward to guiding the students from Tanjong Katong Primary School (TKPS) on Mount Kinabalu every year as they were “well-disciplined”, with “great spirit and teamwork”.

Via Ferrata trainer Hillary Augustinus, 34, and his group of students were in high spirits when they embarked on the route on June 5. “There was a blue sky and nice weather,” he said. “I was taking pictures of them and everybody was talking, happy, smiling and taking selfies.”

Then, 30m into the route on Mount Kinabalu, the earthquake struck. The ground beneath them shook and rocks started to fall, said Mr Augustinus. When the rocks stopped falling, he emerged with bloodied hands and an injured knee.

The trainer from Mountain Torq, the mountaineering company operating the Via Ferrata route, was one of five trainers accompanying the TKPS group on June 5 when the 6.0-magnititude earthquake occurred. Eighteen were killed, among them seven TKPS students and two teachers. A Singaporean mountain guide leading the students also died.

Recounting his experience ahead of a gathering held for TKPS students, families of the survivors and those who died, teachers and the Mountain Torq trainers, Mr Augustinus said he saw another trainer, Mr Hajiris Sulomin, 48, bringing students who had not embarked on the route to the helipad. “I could not see my friends, Valerian (Joannes) and Ricky (Masirin) anywhere,” said Mr Augustinus. Mr Joannes and Mr Masirin died in the tragedy.

Together with the remaining trainer, Mr James Maikol, 29, who was injured, Mr Augustinus rescued some students still on the route. “(The students) were very strong, and not crying,” he said. “I carried the boy with the broken hand to bring them to the summit trail with all the rumbles, the rocks still falling and the dust clouds.”

The gathering was organised with the help of the Ministry of Education at the request of those involved in the tragedy. At the school, students and their parents embraced the trainers, with some tearing silently and others weeping openly. Parents earnestly thanked the trainers for their rescue efforts, with one seen giving a red packet to a trainer. A minute of silence was observed for those who died. The next-of-kin of Mr Masirin and Mr Joannes were also present.

Minister of Education Heng Swee Keat and Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean were also present and thanked the Mountain Torq trainers. “You acted with dedication, courage and selflessness under very difficult circumstances,” said Mr Heng. “Thank you, for taking care of the students and teachers, and doing your best to bring them to safety.”

Mr Heng reassured parents that the school would be given support for the children to “heal as a community”. “As we heal, let us remember to focus on our loved ones who are still with us, and let us help one another,” he added.

Mr Jaidip Jhala, father of deceased student Sonia Jhala, Ms Jessica Veronica Sikta, fiancée of Mr Joannes, and TKPS teacher Mohamed Faizal, who was injured in the quake, also spoke at the gathering.

“My main reason to come here is to meet up personally with the families of those who lost their loved ones, to give my deepest condolences,” said Mr Augustinus. He also wanted to tell the survivors to “live their lives happily, to the fullest”.

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