KOTA KINABALU - Adverse weather was the main reason why helicopters could not be used to rescue stranded climbers near the summit of Mount Kinabalu following Friday's earthquake.
Sabah Parks chairman Tengku Datuk Zainal Adlin Tengku Mahamood said a helicopter was chartered barely an hour after the 7.07am quake to carry out an initial assessment of the situation on the mountain.
"The fog surrounding the mountain was so thick and visibility so limited that it was too hazardous for the helicopter pilots to attempt to go through," he said.
He said the helicopter pilots tried to approach the mountain from different areas such as Kota Belud and Mesilau without success.
Sabah Fire and Rescue Services Department Nordin Pauzi said poor visibility around the mountain summit was a key factor why helicopters could not be used to airlift the injured and stranded climbers on Friday.
"We took into consideration a lot of factors. The first is the fog affecting our pilots' visibility," he said.
"The helicopters may have sophisticated instruments to enable them to be flown in low visibility conditions but with no control tower, landing on the mountain would mean they depended on visibility alone," Nordin added.
He said strong winds near the summit on that day could also have resulted in mishaps for helicopters.
"I was up there as they tried approaching Laban Rata to bring down the bodies and I can tell you that it is not easy to fly a helicopters up there," Nordin added.
He said evacuation efforts of those stranded began with the mountain guides as this was part of their responsibilities.
"They know the mountain best," Nordin said, adding that once down, the mountain guides would hand over the climbers, especially those injured, to the search and rescue personnel.
He said mounting a search and rescue effort involving different agencies such as the Fire and Rescue Services Department, the Special Malaysia Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (SMART), the police and the military took time.
"We have to take into account all eventualities as there were still tremors with boulders and rocks still falling," Nordin added.
An Australian climber Vee Jin Dumlao had criticised the rescue efforts following the earthquake saying that they were left stranded and decided to make the perilous journey down the mountain by themselves.
Dumlao also claimed that the mountain guides did most of the rescuing of the stranded climbers.