Sabah quake: Trainer 'lost in his battle' too

Sabah quake: Trainer 'lost in his battle' too
Ms Jessica Veronica Sikta, the fiancee of Valerian Joannes, who died leading the TKPS group during the earthquake.

Dressed in a white dress and matching stole, she exuded an air of quiet grace as she walked into the school.

A simple silver band surrounded her left ring finger.

But for Ms Jessica Veronica Sikta, the promise of the future that the ring held would never be - her fiance, adventure trainer Valerian Joannes, was among those killed in the aftermath of the 5.9-magnitude earthquake that hit Sabah on June 5.

Mr Joannes, 27, worked with adventure company Mountain Torq that ran the Via Ferrata routes on Mount Kinabalu. He was one of five trainers taking the Tanjong Katong Primary School (TKPS) group through the Via Ferrata trail when the quake struck, killing him and a colleague, Mr Ricky Masirin.

Yesterday, a group comprising Mountain Torq representatives, three trainers and the families of Mr Joannes and Mr Masirin, visited TKPS for a reunion with pupils, teachers and family members.

The trainers, Mr Hilary Augustinus, Mr James Maikol and Mr Hajiris Sulomin, were the ones leading the TKPS group when tragedy struck.

For many of the Sabahans, it was their first time out of Malaysia.

During the two-hour reunion in the TKPS school hall, students and teachers got to catch up with the trainers, who were greeted with excited handshakes and big smiles.

Emotions also ran high as the fallen were remembered.

Towards the end, Ms Sikta addressed the crowd, which included Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Education Minister Heng Swee Keat.

Apologising, she asked for forgiveness from the victim's families because her fiance could not do enough to protect them.

"He... lost in his battle too. But I truly believe that all of them... tried their best to shield themselves from the danger. It is too painful to even imagine about what they had gone through during the unfortunate incident," she said.


While she said she felt the same pain of losing a loved one, "nothing I can say... will ease the pain of losing the one you love".

Others who spoke at the session included teacher Mohamed Faizal Abdul Salam, who was the expedition leader, and Mr Jaidip Jhala, father of one of the victims, Sonia Jhala.

Mr Faizal thanked the Mountain Torq trainers for their dedication, and highlighted the long relationship TKPS has had with the company, with some trainers having seen several batches of students on similar trips in past years.

Mr Jhala said that finding out about his daughter's death was one of the worst moments of his life.

"(As parents were told the bad news), we could hear sighing from room to room... I felt like my heart got ripped out and I didn't know how I was ever going to recover from this," he recounted.

But the outpouring of goodwill he witnessed over the past five to six days has been "amazing".

"To see the camaraderie, to see the love, to see the support, not only for my family, but if I can speak for all the other families, it has just been amazing. There is no way that any person can go through this without so much love and support," said Mr Jhala.

He spoke of a private memorial service last Friday in the school, where representatives from each faith said a prayer for the deceased, and released a bird for each person.

It was held at 7.15am, to mark a week since the earthquake.

"All of us holding hands, different races, different religions, different cultures, all as one. And for me, that is hope," he added.

And for the families of the Sabahan trainers, hope is kept alive through the memory of their loved ones.

At the TKPS tribute centre were three new framed pictures - two of Mr Joannes, and one of Mr Masirin - lovingly carried all the way from Sabah.


"I can relate to the painful feeling of losing our child, a relative and a friend. It is devastating and too sudden that the person we hold in our hearts is no longer here with us. There is nothing I can say that will ease the pain of losing one you love. Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, but love leaves a memory no one can steal."

"The second message is for all of us to always remember them and their life before the tragedy

... As for me, I am still in the process of letting go of my late fiance. I knew him too well that if he were to be here today, he would never forgive himself for (failing to save) the lives of your children. I knew he tried, and he was someone who was very dedicated to his job."

"I promise for the rest of my life to always pray for the souls of your children - Navdeep, Ameer, Karyl, Rachel, Sonia, Emilie, Peony, Mr Terence, Mr Ghazi, Mr Daanish - and for their families."

This article was first published on June 18, 2015.
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