17 July 2019
Five of the firefighters who took part in the rescue of two mainland hikers on Kowloon Peak at the height of tropical storm Pakhar last month. Photo: Fire Services Department
Five of the firefighters who took part in the rescue of two mainland hikers on Kowloon Peak at the height of tropical storm Pakhar last month. Photo: Fire Services Department

Firefighters recount heroic rescue mission during typhoon Pakhar

A group of Hong Kong firefighters risked their lives to rescue two mainland hikers who lost their way at Kowloon Peak at the height of tropical storm Pakhar late last month, reports.

On Aug. 26, as the typhoon lashed the territory, the two hikers got separated from their group and were reported missing.

The firemen immediately organized a search and rescue party to look for the two hikers.

Lee Pak-keung from the Wong Tai Sin Fire Department was the first to locate the couple. He then radioed three of his colleagues – So Chi-wing, So Ka-cheung and Wong Sui-ki – and informed them of his location.

Amid the strong rain and wind, the rescuers started showing symptoms of hypothermia, or loss of body heat. But they pursued their mission, determined to bring the two hikers back to safety.

One of the hikers, a woman, was injured after falling off a slope. The rescuers set up a tent to protect themselves from the wet and chilly weather. They gave the female hiker what was left of their drinking water.

So Chi-wing said he was nearly in tears because it was difficult to carry the woman in the rugged terrain amid the foul weather. But they felt they had no choice but to cooperate with one another and take one small step at a time.

As the storm howled and flood waters descended from the slope, they had to move their tent thrice, and each transfer was full of life-threatening danger.

They were finally able to get radio signal and ask for help at 5 a.m. the following day, only to find out that they had been stranded because of the floods.

The rest of the team were at the foot of the mountain and could not go up to rescue them, so the four, along with the two hikers, decided to move to a higher spot where they thought it would be safer.

Then they used ropes, weeds, branches and vines to form a fence around a set of trees. The makeshift structure was to serve as a temporary haven in case a mudslide occurred.

“There was water at the back and the wind in front of us,” Wong recalled. In order to protect the two hikers, they sat them in between each other.

So Chi-wing reckoned that this rescue mission was more perilous than the firefighting operation during the 1996 Garley Building fire in Jordan, in which he took part.

The ever-changing weather and lack of support made this rescue mission the most difficult for him in his 24 years as a fireman.

But he said they never lost hope. He particularly remembered what one of his colleagues had told them over the radio: “No matter what it takes, cutting trees or splitting mountains, we will come and rescue you.”

He said he realized that in times of emergency, his fellow firefighters are not just colleagues but true brothers who are ready to sacrifice their lives for each other.

Li Ngai, one of the firemen in the backup squad, said when they finally reached their stranded colleagues, they could not help but feel as if a century had passed and they gave each other big hugs.

The incident sparked public outrage over the 31-year-old man and the 47-year-old woman, who were accused of wasting valuable resources and risking the lives of emergency personnel.

The massive rescue operation in an area known as “Suicide Cliff” involved 160 firefighters, 10 ambulances, and 31 fire engines.

“You gave us back our lives and you did it by risking your own lives,” the male hiker told the firemen as he thanked them for their bravery and selflessness.

So Ka-wing only replied that they had supported each other through the night.

Lee said the hikers had been very apologetic and kept saying sorry to the firemen when they came to the rescue amid the raging storm.

The female hiker had held his hand after feeling that he was trembling from the cold weather despite him trying to push her away.

While the mission was going on, the firemen knew their families were anxiously waiting for their call. But in order to preserve power on their phones, the rescuers waited until they got home and embraced them.

They called on members of the public to take heed of the weather before going on a hike and to always take care of themselves.

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