It’s a very sad time for Kinabalu.

On Friday (5th June), an early morning earthquake a magnitude 5.9 earthquake hit near Ranau district, leaving the residents of most places in Sabah, including Ranau, Tambun, Tuaran, Pedalaman, Kota Kinabalu, and Kota Belud shaken.

At that time, immediate damages caused by the earthquake could not be immediately ascertained, but there were climbers at Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia’s highest peak.

Mount Kinabalu Sabah Earthquake

Amongst the hundreds of climbers were some Malaysians, as well as 29 students and 8 teachers from Tanjong Katong Primary School in Singapore. They had gone to Kinabalu for adventure, but they left with heartbreak, as some of them have perished while others still unaccounted for in the perilous rock slide the quake caused.

According to the director of northern Malaysia’s Sabah Parks convervation area Jamili Nais, the tremor triggered crushing rockslides and knocked over boulders that killed those hiking on Kinabalu’s trails.

Many of the Singaporean students were attempting the popular Via Ferrata trail when the quake struck. Normally a physically demanding but problem-free route, it has no vegetation on the rock face. This meant that when the quake struck, there was no shelter from the boulders crashing towards the climbers.

Some boulders and rocks blocked the trail causing more than 200 climbers and guides to be stranded on the summit plateau for about 12 hours.

An account from one of the climbers, Charlene, who posted her harrowing experience up on her Facebook profile, read:

Hi everyone. I don’t know where to start & conclude everything but I’ll try. So, the tragedy of Mount Kinabalu happened right in front of our eyes as we literally experienced it for real. It was very terrifying. We don’t know what to do of course. We were right on top of the mountain. So, I was thinking “did anyone know about this? We’re still up here and I’m not sure everyone has a strong line connection like mine.” So I did what I thought was right. To tell everyone that we really need help. So, I did lend my phone to many people so that they could at least tell their family what was happening. We were starving, freezing, dehydrated and exhausted to the max. The last time we took our quick breakfast before we continue our journey to the peak was around 2.30am. Everyone was sharing food and water to help each other and we waited for hours for the rescue team to come and save us. But everyone was freezing and we don’t have much food and water left if we keep on staying there. So, we did what we had to because we have no choice. Going down to Laban rata in about 2.7km to pick up some food and drinks and then continue for another 6km to reach Timpohon gate for the medic team to rescue us. We took a long time to go down because the original path was destroyed. Along the way, local volunteers, fire fighters and soldiers were also there to help us. I really want to thank everyone for their never ending support, prayers and concern. All those statuses, comments and so on really make us cry and make us even stronger to finish the journey and see our loved ones once we reach down safely. I’m sorry for all the unanswered calls, text messages etc. God bless all of you, thank you so much

Authorities haven’t named all those killed, but according to various news outlets, 3 of them were Robbi Sappingi (a 30-year-old mountain guide attached to Amazing Borneo Tours), Rachael Ho Yann Shiuan (a 12-year-old Singaporean student), and Peony Wee Ying Ping (a 12-year-old Singaporean student).


The Star Online reported that as of Saturday (6th June), search and rescue (SAR) officials believed the death toll is 19 with the recovery of 17 bodies on top of the mountain.

About 60 rescuers and 4 helicopters were combing the mountain, where loose rocks and boulders that fell during the quake blocked part of the main route.

The Star Online wrote that efforts to bring down bodies of climbers have been hampered as some are crushed and pinned under the tonnes of rocks and boulders after Friday’s earthquake. Rescuers, who returned from the scene late Saturday, were concerned that some of the bodies were crushed and pinned under tonnes of rocks and boulders.

The fact that the bodies were pinned underneath loose rocks made it “almost impossible” to retrieve them, one of them said. “Some of the bodies were buried under the rubble. We can see body parts,” explained a member of the team in the face of social media discussions on how to bring down the remains.

Source: The Star Online
Source: The Star Online

They also said that said their helicopters faced difficulty in flying low on the mountain top and had to keep below 10,000 feet. “Many attempts had to be made to fly out the bodies,” said a rescuer.

Ranau police chief Deputy Rupt Mohd Farhan Lee told reporters on Saturday that the search in still on for 6 more.

The UNESCO-listed Mount Kinabalu National Park – including the namesake peak, which rises to 4,095 meters (13,435 feet) above sea level – is a geographic jewel and tourist stomping grounds in Malaysian Borneo. It’s so popular that visitors have to book 2 – 3 months in advance to secure one of 196 daily allocated hiking permits.

Minister of Tourism, Culture & Environment, Sabah (Malaysia) Masidi Manjun, who has been frequently updating his Twitter with information from the SAR operations, has declared tomorrow (Monday, 8th June) a day of mourning in Sabah:

The nationalities and identities of those killed will be released after post mortem. The authorities, meanwhile, have decided to shut down Mount Kinabalu to climbers for at least 3 weeks.

Sources: The Star Online (1), CNN, The Star Online (2)The Straits Times (1), Charlene’s FacebookThe Borneo PostThe Straits Times (2).

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