KULAI, Johor: After three days of continuous search and rescue operations in various parts of Gunung Pulai forest reserve, Mohd Khairi Zainudin was growing desperate.
The Kulai Fire Department Chief, who was also the operations’ commander, told Channel NewsAsia that he was tired and frustrated as search efforts for Singaporean hikers Dominick Tan and Clarice Lum Jie were not bearing fruit over Tuesday and Wednesday.
But at around 11.25am on Thursday (Feb 8) morning, Mohd Khairi, who was one of the officers on board the helicopter deployed for search operations, said he felt reinvigorated after spotting the pair at a lake at Ulu Choh Pontian.
“Near the water body, we could just make out the figure of a man treading in the water. He had rolled up his shirt and was waving at us frantically,” said Mohd Khairi.
“I lost all sense of tiredness and asked that the helicopter be moved closer to the figure. We needed to make sure it was really them first,” he added.
When the helicopter was lowered, Mohd Khairi and three other officers on board established that the man in the water was indeed Mr Tan and that another hiker on the river bank was Ms Lum.
“We all just heaved a sigh of relief before making an air-to-ground radio call to inform the rest of the search party,” Mohd Khairi added.
The helicopter was unable to land in the swampy area, so he dispatched a rescue boat to the hikers' location.
“We had to leave the hikers behind for a while, because we needed to guide the boat to the area we found them. We noted the exact location they were at and beckoned the rescue boat to follow the helicopter,” he said.
According to Mohd Khairi, the boatmen found them easily and helped the pair on board.
“When they were in the boat, our officers tried to assess their injuries and gave them something to eat and drink. More importantly, we needed to raise their spirits. We motivated them and informed them that their family members were waiting for them,” he said.
Mohd Khairi noted that the hikers were equipped with survival skills that ultimately saved them.
He said it was important that they were near a water source and made an effort to appear visible to the rescuers in the helicopter.
Mohd Khairi, along with Johor police chief Mohd Khalil Kader Mohd, drew praise from Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for their efforts in this operation.
“I am delighted to be praised by PM Lee. It feels great to be appreciated for the work I’ve done,” said Mohd Khairi.
While expressing gratitude at the special mention, police chief Mohd Khalil told Channel NewsAsia that his men also deserved credit for the part they played in the effort.
“The honours go to my men who worked tirelessly to locate the hikers and save them. I am proud of what they did,” he said.
Mohd Khalil added that the Malaysian government will bear the costs of the rescue operations fully, including the deployment of the helicopter.