Rescuer recalls mountain terror

Local | Jane Lam 14 Sep 2017

A firefighter who tackled the deadly 1996 Garley Building inferno had a frightening story to tell about the recent rescue of two mainland tourists on Kowloon Peak during severe tropical storm Pakhar.

The couple came from Guangdong and went hiking on Kowloon Peak on August 26, while Pakhar was raging.

The two were trapped after sliding to the bottom of a cliff, and were rescued only 24 hours after Fire Services were notified. The rescue involved 160 firemen, with four of them spending the night with the tourists on the hill under extreme circumstances.

At 5am on August 27, after 10 hours of rescue efforts, the firefighters issued a May Day call as all of them - rescuers and tourists - were suffering from hypothermia. They had to move three times before dawn, as conditions were changing all the time.

"The situation was very frightening, water roared down the mountain and many boulders dislodged by the strong winds and heavy rain were falling about us," said So Chi-wing, senior fireman with 24 years' service who worked in the Garley rescue.

So said that compared to the Garley fire - which killed 41 people and injured 81 - the greater danger in this mission was its unpredictability.

"Nature can be unpredictable and ruthless, and if the storm had been more serious, we won't be sitting here now," he said. He had special thanks for his colleagues for their unstinting efforts.

After their May Day call they could only huddle together in limited space, facing the cliff and waiting to be rescued. "The rescue team said over the radio that they would save us at all costs. I was really touched by that," he recalled.

Fireman Lee Pak-keung, who first saw the tourists on the mountain, said that the woman could not move when he found them. "The rain was heavy and I had to climb up the mountain to rescue them. She was immobile, her forehead and her legs were hurt. I moved them to somewhere safer, gave them some food, water, blankets and some first aid for their injuries."

The tourists called for help at 7.43pm on August 26. The firemen began their climb at 9pm and located the pair two hours later, during which a fireman was hurt and had to be sent downhill.

The Mountain Search and Rescue team joined them afterwards, and together the firemen issued a May Day at 5am. Then the High Angle Rescue Team arrived and the woman was stretchered away. She was admitted to hospital and allowed to leave the following day while her male friend was treated and discharged the same night.

The mission ended at 7pm when all the rescuers climbed down Kowloon Peak safely.

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