FIVE soldiers who cheated death during their month-long ordeal in the Malaysian jungle are preparing for an emotional reunion with their families in Hong Kong today. The men, three Hong Kong soldiers and two British officers, nearly starved to death in a failed attempt to conquer Low's Gully on Mount Kinabalu, in the East Malaysian state of Sabah. The two British officers will be meeting their wives, who arrived in the territory from Britain last night. All five survivors are due to touch down at 3.35 this afternoon. They will be treated at the British Military Hospital and debriefed by Ministry of Defence officials, in preparation for the military inquiry to be held into the training exercise that almost ended in tragedy. ''I'm looking forward to seeing my family and friends very shortly,'' said Major Ronald Foster, looking unkempt but fit as he walked to the Sabah Medical Centre from the rescue helicopter. Filming the press with the video camera he had kept running throughout the expedition he added: ''I never gave up hope, I was just a bit more hungry than I normally am.'' Private Chen Wai-keung, speaking in Cantonese, said he was happy to be safe. ''There was no problem with my health,'' he said despite looking painfully thin. ''I just miss my family and want desperately to see them.'' Together with Lance Corporal Cheung Yiu-keung they were the final three survivors to be airlifted to safety in an operation which hinged on the tremendous bravery of the Sea King helicopter crew. The expedition leader, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Neill and Private Lam Ywai-ki were pulled out of Low's Gully on Friday before cloudy weather stalled the operation. At first light yesterday the Sea King made its first venture into the treacherous gully and winched the remaining three from the jungle-covered ledge which had been their home for the past three weeks. Pilot Gabriel Joel said the second mission was more difficult because of warm currents of air creating turbulence. After taking the survivors, each of whom kissed and hugged their rescuers, for medical treatment at a nearby village where a 12-man British Special Air Service rescue team had set up base, the helicopter returned to pick up the paramedics - two Malaysianand one British - who had stayed with them overnight. Lance Corporal Haris Bin Lamaba said the night was cold but they shared the army rations delivered minutes after they were first spotted. ''They were hungry and exhausted,'' he said. ''The Hong Kong guys were complaining about being hungry and having stomach-aches. They said they were not used to being hungry.'' He said they described the ordeal and told him they survived on just their rations and water, as no food was available in the jungle. Lance Corporal Mohamed Noh Bidin, who also spent the night on the ledge, said they talked about their rations running out on March 8 when the last tin of sardines was eaten. They drank large amounts of water and slept to conserve energy. Later, speaking to The Sunday Morning Post from his hospital bed, Major Foster, who in the past was based in Hong Kong with Colonel Neill for two years, said he was feeling well, but was under instructions from the Ministry of Defence not to discuss the expedition. ''I'm sorry, I can't say too much,'' he said. However he did say that playing chess had helped to pass the time, using a pocket set the colonel had brought along. ''There was a particularly strong feeling between us out there and we propped each other up from time to time. I always thought we were going to be alright and that we would be rescued.'' He said he was looking forward to seeing his wife Jeanette, son Vaughan, 28, daughter Kerry, 27, and two grandchildren, Jade and Christie, 2. Colonel Neill, it emerged, had made several attempts to go for help, but found his route through the jungle too difficult. He had kept a small newspaper advertisement with him throughout, featuring a limbo dancer and the words: ''JD's sale: How low can you go?'' Consultant orthopaedic surgeon and traumatologist Doctor Heng Aik Cheng, in charge of the patients at the Sabah Medical Centre in Kota Kinabalu, said the men were all fit, but it would take up to a month for them to make a full recovery. ''The first two who came in were very exhausted but the final three were just very tired.'' ''I don't expect there to be a post-traumatic effect. They will probably be more philosophical about life though.'' He said Major Foster was in the best shape of the five ''because he had more fat to burn off''. All, he said, lost about nine kilograms and, although not yet on solid food, were eating ice cream, juices and porridge. They had also taken their first baths for more than a month. Meanwhile, relatives of the two British officers arrived in Hong Kong on a British Airways flight last night, anticipating a joyous reunion with their loved ones today. Fiona Neill, her two teenage sons, James and Alexander, and Jeanette Foster, accompanied by military personnel, bravely faced the waiting media at Kai Tak Airport. The two women appeared overwhelmed by the blaze of publicity and answered questions briefly. ''Sheer relief,'' was how Mrs Neill described her first reaction to the news that her husband was alive. She said: ''It's the difference between life and death. It's wonderful.'' She admitted that during her family's ordeal, her faith in her husband's survival did waver slightly, but she had never really lost hope. She said she kept going by thinking of her love for him. ''You do begin to lose hope, and then you remember the person that you're thinking about. They're so brave, so professional you always know that they'll come back somehow,'' she said. Mrs Neill said she would not prevent her husband from taking part in adventurous activity in the future, even if it meant his return to Low's Gully. ''Of course, it's just part of being a soldier's wife.'' The colonel's son, Alexander, who is studying Chinese at London University, said he was looking forward to seeing his father. Both women appeared tired from their trip, but were bearing up well under the pressure. Mrs Neill, who taught English for two years in Mongkok, said she was not alarmed when the time for Colonel Neill's return had passed. ''I always give him four to five days, since I know, when he's in difficult terrain there's really no reason for him to rush home to me.'' Mrs Neill added: ''I had no premonitions about this expedition. He's done it so often, I trust him to take care of himself.'' Mrs Neill first found out something had gone awry on the mission from Major David Bentley, a colleague of her husband in York in northern England. Major Bentley accompanied the women to Hong Kong. Colonel Bentley Marchant, who led the greeting party when the families arrived, said: ''The families will be given the opportunity to relax and come to terms with this news. It's been quite a shock for them, even though the news is good.'' He added: ''Let's not forget, the first five men achieved their aim. They went through the entire mission, and that's quite an achievement.''