SINGAPORE: In August last year, avid mountain climber Jeremy Tong was descending the 7,105m-tall Korzhenevskaya peak in Tajikistan when he lost his balance and slipped 5m down the ice.
“I tried to arrest my fall by putting my ice axe into the ground,” said the 27-year-old, who has more than a decade’s worth of experience scaling peaks in places like China, Bolivia and Nepal.
But Mr Tong was dazed, and he accidentally pierced his right thigh instead. This made his return from the summit a challenge. “I didn’t know about my injuries until I reached base camp and took my pants off,” he recalled.
That is why the incident involving Singaporean Rinta Paul Mukkam – who went missing during a diving trip off Komodo Island in Indonesia – has hit home for him. Official search and rescue operations for Ms Mukkam were called off on Saturday (Jul 22).
“I can sort of relate to the incident,” Mr Tong told Channel NewsAsia. “Of course, it’s very sad."
Incidents like these, together with the death of fellow Singaporean Mario Low Ke Wei in a skydiving accident near Sydney, Australia, have put a spotlight on the safety of adventure sports.
While Mr Tong said it is "positive" that more Singaporeans are "getting out" and being increasingly adventurous, he called for them to be aware of the need to stay safe.
DON’T SCRIMP ON SAFETY
Mr Tong, who also acts as a consultant for mountain climbers, recommends researching online sites like TripAdvisor for reputable operators and shelling out a bit more to engage them.
“On Everest, there will be companies that offer no-frills expeditions at cut-cost prices for climbers who are willing to risk it,” he explained. “These companies might have outdated safety protocols, and their instructors might not have the correct certifications.”
His views were shared by Mr Colin Koh, managing director of Asian Detours, a fully-accredited outdoor adventure company that runs kayaking and biking trips around Pulau Ubin. He agreed that people need to proactively seek out operators who meet certain standards.
“The key is to engage a reliable operator, then trust them implicitly to understand your limitations,” said Mr Koh. “If you can’t afford it, reduce the scope of your activities until you can afford to engage the top operators in the field.”
Mr Koh also stressed on the need for operator certifications, adding that companies that “bother to apply for and maintain accreditations would likely keep up safety standards”.
“Sometimes, going with the best will cost you a little bit more,” Mr Tong said. “But it will be the best way to cover yourself if something goes wrong.”
However, even the most trustworthy of operators are vulnerable to errors, and so travellers need to take further measures to protect themselves.
READ THE FINE PRINT
Mr Tong said travel insurance is a must-have when it comes to adventure and extreme sports. “It’s important to read between the lines and know what your insurance covers and what it doesn’t,” he added.
As a starting point, travellers should check if their insurance covers the activities they are engaging in, said a spokesperson from the General Insurance Association (GIA).
Some activities are excluded because they are “dangerous to most holidaymakers who are inexperienced”, the spokesperson added. “In the event of an accident, those engaged in such sports are likely to sustain more serious injuries or even death.”
For example, Etiqa Insurance’s ePROTECT travel plan does not cover activities like motorcycling, mountaineering, rock climbing and scuba diving below depths of 30m. On the other hand, skydiving, parachuting and bungee jumping are covered.
For activities that are included, travellers should take note of special circumstances listed in their policy wording, Etiqa Insurance chief executive Sue Chi Kong said.
“They should also ensure that they are covered for emergency medical evacuation and repatriation, especially if they are planning to go scuba diving, hiking or skydiving, since it is unlikely that they will be near any decent medical facilities should unforeseen events happen.”
When death occurs, the insurer will “pay the claim up to the policy limit” if the activity is not an excluded risk, according to GIA. For adults below 70, MSIG Insurance’s TravelEasy premier plan offers a maximum coverage of S$500,000 for accidental death.
Meanwhile, MSIG Insurance has seen an increase over the past few years in purchases of policies that cover “adventurous" activities, its spokesperson added.
UNPERTURBED BY RISKS
Despite the perils, some enthusiasts like Ms Natalie Tan, 22, are not giving up on recreational extreme sports just yet.
While the video production freelancer says it is a “pity” that the recent diving and skydiving incidents happened, she pointed out that “there haven't been that many incidents”.
“Usually, there are contingencies in place in the event something goes wrong,” added Ms Tan, who has paraglided solo in Vietnam, freedived in the United States and climbed rope-free in the Indian Himalayas.
But she acknowledged that travellers sometimes get “a bit too distracted by the thrill factor” of such activities, and urged them to fully understand the risks. “You have to be mentally prepared to handle the situation if things do not go as planned,” she said.
And even then, Mr Tong pointed out that sometimes all the preparation in the world cannot prevent some accidents.
“That’s nature – we can’t control it.”