A lack of clear commands and sloppy communications between rescue units hindered attempts to save a school party trapped on the burning slopes of Pat Sin Leng, a coroner ruled yesterday. John Saunders criticised the lack of cohesion between the government rescue units - and the broken chains of communication within each unit - in the February 10 tragedy. But he stopped short of saying the problems cost lives. 'The fact that no training exercises had taken place which involved police, Fire Services and the Government Flying Service is a matter of concern,' he said. 'Clearly, these units must have the ability to work together.' Mr Saunders ruled the deaths of three students and two teachers from the Fung Yiu King Memorial Secondary School in Ma On Shan during a hike were accidental. Pupils Lung Yu-ying, 12, Kwong Shuk-ling, 12, and Rita Yu Hui-wan, 13; and teachers Chau Chi-chai, 32, and Wong Sau-mei, 26, died in the blaze. Mr Saunders said a number of natural factors had contributed to the deaths. When the blaze started, most of the 54 hikers were at the steepest part of the 511-metre hill and trapped between heavy brush and a sheer rock face. The lack of rain over the previous 72 days had made the area tinder dry and a strong breeze fanned the flames. 'I am satisfied that the only cause of the fire was either cigarettes or lighters. At least four students were seen smoking,' Mr Saunders said. 'But I am unable to say who started the fire or whether it was begun accidentally from a discarded cigarette butt or by someone playing with fire.' He made nine recommendations to prevent a repeat of mistakes made during the rescue: The Education Department must improve training for teachers leading such activities and set standards for students. On the fatal hike, 18 of the 49 students had never hill-walked before; The Education Department and police must review reporting methods. Police were not told the number of students in trouble; The Agriculture and Fisheries Department should enhance public awareness of hill-fire dangers; Fire Services, Auxiliary Medical Services, police, the Government Flying Service and the Civil Aviation Department should carry out an immediate review of communication used by ambulance and firemen. Some frustrated rescuers used private mobile phones; The compatibility of equipment should be reviewed. Stretchers used by rescuers would not fit in helicopters; There should be an immediate move to form joint training exercises and review the status of control during joint operations; There should be an investigation into possible new rescue equipment, including 'hands-free' radios, helibaskets which hold 10 people, loudspeakers on helicopters and fireproof uniforms for winchmen; Rules that demand patients are taken to the nearest medical facility, even if it cannot cope, should be reviewed; Communication between the Fire Services Department and the Hospital Authority should be examined. Mr Saunders also singled out the heroism of the teachers who died trying to save students. 'In a mass tragedy such as this it is important to record the positive as well as the losses, for in the positives one finds a balance,' he said. Yu Wo-ki, the father of Hui-wun, accepted the verdict. 'I want my daughter to rest in peace,' he said. 'Happiness should not be taken for granted anymore.'