Singapore hikers lost for 15 hours in Kota Tinggi

S’pore hikers lost for 15 hours in Kota Tinggi
8 spent night on slope after wrong turn; call to cabby led to police search
Nov 13, 2012
By Priscilla Goy And Pearl Lee

A WRONG turn left eight Singaporeans stranded in a forest reserve near a Kota Tinggi waterfall for more than 15 hours over the weekend. They were finally rescued at about 10am on Sunday – wet and exhausted after spending the night on a slope and in utter darkness.

The eight trekkers were Ms Tay Wei Xin, 25, Mr Law Teck Chuan, 28, Mr Lim Pong Hui, 27, Mr Wong Thiam Siang, 28, Ms Seow Pei Wen, 25, Ms Xiao Yulin, 25, and siblings Sng Yu Xin, 21, and Sng Ping Qiu, 28.

Ms Tay, Ms Seow and Ms Xiao had trekked in Kota Tinggi, about two hours’ drive from Singapore, a few times before, while the rest were doing so for the first time.

Ms Tay, a teacher, said the group, who are all friends of either Ms Sng or Mr Sng, checked into Kota Tinggi Waterfalls Resort at about 10.30am on Saturday. They had taken a bus across the Causeway, then a taxi to the hotel. They had intended to stay for the weekend. They set off for the Pelepah waterfalls in the Gunung Panti recreational forest at about 11am. The trek was within walking distance of their resort. She said she told the receptionist at the hotel of their trek.

Mr Sng, an application developer, said they had planned to hike upslope, which would take them past the three waterfalls there, and then backtrack to the resort. The end of the trail would be marked by the third waterfall. At about 4.30pm, they came to a point where there were two markers, which are pieces of ribbon or plastic tied around tree trunks by previous hikers. One led to the left, another to the right. Said Ms Tay: “We took the left turn because it led downstream, but after about five to 10 minutes, we realised it led nowhere. There were no more markers.”

The group went back and took the right turn, but realised they were walking in circles. They stopped at about 7pm as it was getting dark. They considered waiting till morning before continuing their trek back, but decided to call the police.

“It was getting very dangerous to walk, and the trail was also very steep and narrow,” said Mr Sng. “We had to walk one by one… we couldn’t go in twos. One person had to stay at the back to flash the torchlight on the trail because it was too dark.” Ms Sng was also having a fever by then.

Mr Sng had saved the mobile number of the Malaysian taxi driver who drove them to the hotel from the Kota Tinggi bus terminal. He called the taxi driver, who alerted the Malaysian police.

Ms Tay said that at 10.30pm, the police called them to say that they would be searching for them. The group waited till about 2am on Sunday, but no one came for them. “We had water, we had food, we just did not have extra clothing,” said Ms Tay. They had between them a loaf of bread, some crackers and sweets – leftovers from the food they had packed for their picnic. Ms Tay, who was wearing two T-shirts, offered one to Ms Sng, who was feeling cold because of her fever. The rest of the group hugged their legs while sitting down to keep themselves warm.

At about 7am, the police called them to say officers would be going upstream to search for them.

When Mr Law went downstream to look out for the rescue team, he saw a villager fishing by the river. He blew a whistle he had with him to attract the villager’s attention. The villager led the trekkers out of the Pelepah falls area to the route that would take them back to their resort. They met their rescuers along the way, said Ms Tay.

The group took a bus back to Singapore later on Sunday.

Asked how they would trek differently in future, Ms Tay said: “I will bring a windbreaker, a lighter, maybe some things to light a fire.” Mr Sng said that although it was unpleasant to have been stranded, he was still up for another trek. “But this time, with a guide definitely,” he said.

The New Straits Times yesterday quoted Kota Tinggi district police chief Che Mahazan Che Aik as advising foreigners who want to trek in the area to alert the hotel operator before setting out or hire a local guide.