Sabah quake survivors meet guides at tearful reunion

Trainer Hillary Augustinus (right), who, along with colleagues, helped TKPS pupils to safety after the quake, meeting (from left) pupil Jayden Francis, Andrew Mathieu Ramu, nine, whose older sister Emilie Giovanna Ramu died in the quake, pupil Tristan So Kwan Wing and Education Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Survivors of the Sabah earthquake shared stories of their ordeal and remembered lost friends yesterday at a tearful reunion at Tanjong Katong Primary School (TKPS).

Trainer Hillary Augustinus, 34, from Malaysian mountaineering company Mountain Torq, and colleagues James Maikol, 29, and Hajiris Sulomin, 40, spent over an hour meeting the surviving TKPS pupils and parents who lost loved ones. Seven TKPS pupils and two teachers died, along with a Singaporean adventure guide accompanying them up Mount Kinabalu on June 5.

Mr Augustinus, who was tasked with taking photos for his employer's Facebook page, recalled how pupils in his group were taking selfies and chatting happily moments before the 6.0-magnitude earthquake shook Mount Kinabalu at 7.15am.

He immediately directed pupils to lean against the rock face and shield their heads with their hands as rocks - some the size of houses - rained down. "It was like somebody was hitting my head with a baseball bat," said Mr Augustinus, who sustained injuries to his back and right knee as he led the group to safety.

The Malaysian's friends and fellow Mountain Torq trainers Valerian Joannes, 27, and Ricky Masirin, 28, who were leading other TKPS pupils, died in the tragedy. They had been making their way up the gentler Via Ferrata route.

Yesterday afternoon, the three surviving Malaysian trainers were accompanied by Mr Joannes' and Mr Masirin's family members as they viewed condolence notes penned by the public.

Mr Joannes' fiancee, nurse Jessica Sikta, 25, said she is still in the process of letting go.

The couple had been due to marry in November. "If he were here today, he would never forgive himself for failing to save the lives of your children," she said at the reunion. "I knew he tried, and he was dedicated to his job."

About 70 pupils, teachers and parents observed a minute's silence at the start of the event. Also present were Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Education Minister Heng Swee Keat.

TKPS teacher Mohamed Faizal Abdul Salam, who was on the trip, praised the trainers for their professionalism. Mr Faizal, who lost colleagues Terrence Loo and Mohammad Ghazi Mohamed, said: "The trainers did it despite their injuries and the danger of further rockfalls. They did it to the best of their ability."

On Tuesday, 25-year-old mountain guide Mohd Rizuan Kauhinin met the Singaporean boy he rescued after the quake.

A photo of him carrying injured TKPS pupil El Wafeeq El Jauzy, 12, on his back went viral on social media last week but Mr Rizuan told The Straits Times: "I am not a hero."

He added that many other guides and aid teams also contributed to rescue efforts.

Mr Rizuan arrived in Singapore on Monday night with two other guides, Mr Simon Gohinmin and Mr Mazlee Liong. The trio has taken turns carrying Wafeeq to safety.

In a speech at TKPS yesterday, Mr Heng said his ministry is looking at facilitating public donations for the Sabahan trainers and guides. "We are grateful to these good people who did what they could in a time of crisis," he said. "The healing process will take time. As we heal, let us remember our loved ones who are still with us, and let us help one another."

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