JOHOR BARU – They had been walking for the last three days and nights.
After what little food and water they had ran out, the two Singaporean hikers who went missing on Gunung Pulai in Johor on Monday (Feb 5), could only hope that they would soon be found.
The drone of a helicopter’s rotor blades on Thursday morning must have sounded like music to the ears of Mr Dominick Tan Chang Xiang and Ms Lum Jie, both 27.
The rescue of the duo, who were unhurt, ended a four-day search and rescue operation involving a team of about 90 comprised of the police, park rangers, fire services staff as well as volunteers.
“The helicopter spotted the man at 11.20am. By 11.30am, they were picked up by a rescue boat stationed about five minutes away,” said head of Kulai Fire Station, Mr Mohd Khairi Zainudin.
Officers saw a man in the water below frantically waving his shirt as the helicopter hovered near a dam.
“We were filled with relief,” Mr Khairi told The Straits Times.
At about 1.30pm on Thursday, the hikers arrived at Pontian Hospital, about 45 minutes’ drive from Gunung Pulai.
The doctor who examined the pair told ST that they were healthy and in good spirits.
Giving his name name only as Dr Ahmad, he said: “They survived on very little and they drank river water. But they were not malnourished or dehydrated. I didn’t find any injuries except for minor scratches.”
At the hospital, the two Singaporeans did not speak to the media and left with family members about an hour later in a few cars.
The area in which the pair was found was close to Ulu Choh Dam in Pontian, which is about 20km by road from Gunung Pulai.
The rescuers had expanded their search to a 36 sq km area based on the duo’s last reported location from a phone call.
On Monday evening, Mr Tan called the police for help after losing his way on the 654m-high mountain.
Rescuers soon gathered at Seri Gunung Pulai village at the base of the mountain, about an hour’s drive from the Second Link.
The village head, Mr Roskalana Wagiman, 53, said he knew something was wrong when he noticed a dark-coloured, Singapore-registered Hyundai Tuscon parked at the base of the mountain.
The SUV was parked there by Mr Tan, eyewitnesses told ST, adding that it was driven away the next day.
Mr Roskalana said: “By Monday night, it was like a festival at the entrance of the mountain. There were many government vehicles parked there.”
It is routine for mountain trails to be closed on Mondays for cleaning.
Added Mr Roskalana: “There are signs to indicate the hiking trails are closed on Mondays. But if somebody wanted to go in, it’s still possible. The danger of going off the trail is you could get lost or get hurt.”
The secretary of the village, Mr Khairudin Ahmad, 41, said the walk to the summit is about 6km long and takes roughly two hours on an “easy walk”.
He said: “It would be a mistake to take a short cut because the jungle terrain can be rough. In 2001, heavy rains caused a mudslide that killed five people in the village below.”
A father of one of the Singaporeans, who had waited for days at the village, clasped his hands together as a gesture of thanks to the rescuers and villagers after hearing the good news on Thursday.
Throughout the four days, he had bought food from nearby stalls and distributed them to the rescuers.
“The hiker’s father was helpful in that he did not pressure us when we came back empty-handed with no sightings of the pair. He gave us space to do our work,” said Mr Khairi.
Despite the incident, Seri Gunung Pulai’s executive committee members said it was safe to hike up the mountain, provided that hikers stay on the trail.
Mr Khairudin estimated that in a month, about 800 cars can be seen parked at the base of the mountain during weekends. Singapore cars make up about 2 per cent of these.
ST counted six Singapore-registered cars parked close to the entrance of the mountain when it visited on Thursday.
The Kulai Fire Station rescues about five missing hikers each year and the latest search operation was unusually long, said Mr Khairi.
When a person reports that he is lost on the mountain, the authorities would usually find him within a few hours, he said.
Added Mr Khairi: “At worst, missing hikers would be found the next day. But this recent search operation was perhaps the longest one to date.”