For days, the families held on to a glimmer of hope that their children could be found alive.
Hope turned to sorrow when they gradually realised that it was not to be.
But when the tragedy unfolded, counsellors stood beside them. One of them was Ms Malar Palaiyan, a senior guidance specialist from the Ministry of Education (MOE).
As the reality of their loss slowly set in, Ms Palaiyan said the families stayed strong.
Says Ms Palaiyan: "I heard them say things like 'I want to bring back my child to Singapore' and 'If it is meant to be, it's meant to be'.
"What amazed me was the kind of resilience that the parents displayed, how strong they were."
She is one of 18 officers from the MOE, Ministry of Social and Family Development, Singapore Prison Service, Singapore Armed Forces and the Institute of Mental Health, who travelled with the families to Sabah to provide emotional support.
All are trained in crisis management, she says.
Speaking from her work experience, Ms Palaiyan says that "sudden losses" usually result in denial, anger or depression.
Each grieving family has one or two officers attached to them. Their role is to understand what the families need and help them address their concerns.
Besides provide a listening ear, they also take care of their daily needs, such as meals, and eat together with their assigned family.
She did not say how long counsellors have to remain attached to the families as it varies from person to person.
"Every person grieves differently," she adds.
Ms Palaiyan says they do get affected by the tragedy. "We are paired to a buddy so that we can look out for each other. At the end of each day, we hold a group debrief to check in on our thoughts and emotions."
This article was first published on June 14, 2015.
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