Students rescued after return to camp blocked by overflowing river


LUNDU: Seventy Unimas students and their trainers were rescued by local police and firemen after an overflowing river prevented them from returning to their jungle camp in Sematan near here early yesterday.

The group was returning to their base camp around midnight when they discovered their only route back had been cut off by strong current from Sungai Serayan Besar, which had burst its banks following torrential rainfall.

Realising they were trapped, the students- part of a 130-member Unimas reserve training unit- along with their trainers from the Royal Malaysia Air Force (TUDM), immediately made an emergency call for help, prompting police from Sematan and personnel from the Lundu fire station to launch a rescue operation.

The rescue team, comprising 13 policemen and four firemen, had to make a three-hour walk via Jalan Perunggang before arriving at the scene, where they found the victims split into two groups at separate points along the river.

According to Sematan police station chief sergeant Mohd Johan, rescuers began by saving the first group of 26 students and trainers, followed by the remaining 44 in the second group.

Mohd Johan, who was briefing district police chief DSP Wong Chee Keong on the rescue operation when met yesterday, said the victims had repeatedly expressed their gratitude to rescuers for their swift response to the situation.

“All of them were shivering badly from the cold as a result of being caught in the rain for several hours. However, all of them avoided serious injuries except for one TUDM personnel who was bitten by a scorpion on the back of his neck while in the process of being rescued,” said Mohd Johan.

The injured air force personnel was subsequently rushed to Lundu hospital for treatment and is reported to be in stable condition.

Meanwhile, Lundu fire station chief Michael Gumbai and Bomba operations chief Bangga Baie said the inter-agency cooperation displayed by the police and Fire Department meant the operation was carried out smoothly and efficiently.

Bangga, who was also part of the rescue team, said Bomba personnel rushed to the scene after being notified of the incident at 12.36am, and stayed to make sure all 70 trapped students and trainers were accounted for before ending the operation at 7.55am.

“We took a rope and swam across the river, which is about eight metres wide but had swelled to roughly 30m wide and five feet deep following the rain, and attached both ends to trees before helping each student and trainer to cross the fast-flowing river back to their camp,” he explained.

He said the participants of the planned week-long survival training programme, which coincided with their semester break, comprised 130 students- 80 of whom are females- and 14 TUDM trainers.

Following instructions from the police, however, the programme, which began on Jan 29, was called off with the students slated to return to their campus.