KUNDASANG, June 9 — Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak today denied allegations that search and rescue efforts for Sabah’s earthquake-hit Mount Kinabalu were slow and disorganised.
Najib, in his first visit to the state since it was struck by a deadly earthquake five days ago, said that the teams “did everything humanly possible under the circumstances” to save the climbers stranded on the mountain following the quake.
“The allegations are simply not true. Those that could be saved, were saved. Others who perished were unfortunately hit by the brunt of the earthquake, it was the will of God,” he said.
“It is not right to point fingers now and say we didn’t do all we could,” he said.
The death toll from the magnitude 5.9 earthquake is at 16, with two more still unaccounted for. Many of the deceased were believed to have died while on a via ferrata climbing route which was beyond rescuer’s reach.
Najib said he was told that a large part of the summit was covered by clouds on the day of the incident and, together with the wind factor, made it impossible for the helicopter to land.
“These factors are not always visible but needs to be understood so as not to assign blame,” he said.
Najib said that the various agencies – Sabah Parks, Fire and Rescue Services department, police, army, SMART team and civil defence department – had worked together to coordinate rescue operations.
“The mountain guides in particularly, have exhibited extraordinary bravery and we are in discussions with the state government to come up with some form of reward to give due recognition for their efforts in risking their lives for others,” he said.
Two mountain guides, Robbi Sapinggi and Joseph Solugin, along with Mountain Torq trainers Valerian Joannes and Ricky Masirin, perished from injuries sustained during the quake.
A Malaysia-born Australian trekker who was among the 105 tourist climbers stranded at the mountain’s summit on Friday lashed out at Malaysia’s emergency response, calling it a “farce”.
In an interview with Australia’s ABC News, Vee Jin Dumlao alleged of shambolic organisation by local rescuers, whom she said idled and ate food meant for victims while the native guides did most of the rescuing.
She also claimed that some of those who died might have been saved if the rescue helicopters had been sent when weather cleared up on Friday evening.
Fire and Rescue Services Department Noordin Pauzi had previously said that unpredictable weather conditions and SAR procedure was in play on the day which delayed the team.
The death toll from the quake that hit Sabah on Friday morning is at 16 while two are unaccounted for.