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Hong Kong rescue services

Hikers caught in tropical storm make emotional apology after huge rescue operation draws public ire in Hong Kong

Mainland Chinese pair issue letter thanking firefighters involved in exercise after dramatic night on cliff side in raging storm

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 August, 2017, 10:24pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 September, 2017, 8:07pm

One of two mainland Chinese hikers who prompted a major rescue operation after running into trouble on a Hong Kong cliff side in the middle of a raging storm has written an emotional letter to his saviours to apologise for all the trouble they caused.

The letter, in Chinese and addressed to the Fire Services Department and “other relevant departments”, said the pair would never forget the rescuers’ kindness and praised them for their professionalism.

The apology came after the hikers, a 31-year-old man and a 47-year-old woman, sparked public outrage for wasting valuable resources and endangering the lives of emergency personnel after they became stranded on Kowloon Peak while Severe Tropical Storm Pakhar was lashing Hong Kong last weekend.

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The rescue operation took more than 24 hours, with 160 firefighters, 10 ambulances and 31 fire engines deployed to pluck them to safety from a steep slope dubbed “suicide cliff”.

Four firefighters had to use their raincoats as a makeshift tent and spend a night on the cliff side to keep the hikers alive.

A source involved in the exercise said the four at one point sent a “Mayday” signal, raising fears at the fire department that their lives were in danger.

The author of the letter, which was also posted on a popular Facebook page for firefighters, identified himself as the male hiker and recalled that his friend was unable to walk after she fell.

10 hours in the dark on ‘suicide cliff’ in tropical storm with only raincoats for shelter: how two lucky Hong Kong hikers were rescued

“Thanks go to the members of the Fire Services Department who braved the wind and rain, regardless of their own safety, and led us away from that dangerous place,” he wrote.

“It is not an overstatement to say that you gave us our lives back. And it was achieved by you risking your own lives. We will never forget your kindness to us.”

He admitted they should not have ventured out when the No 1 typhoon warning signal was already in force. They had to sit out the storm on the cliff side after it worsened and the signal was upgraded to No 8.

The peak they were climbing is the highest on the Kowloon Peninsula and is classed by hikers as advanced level.

“We should have cancelled the plan. But we chose to go ahead, and, more stupidly, we chose a route we had never taken before.”

The letter expressed their guilt and shame in front of “all Hong Kong people”.

“As tourists, we not only used up valuable resources and gave trouble to the people of Hong Kong, but also, more importantly, we let so many firefighters risk their lives to save us. That made us feel too ashamed to face you.”

The letter gave special thanks to the firemen who reached them on Saturday night and only left the cliff side on Sunday afternoon when the No 8 signal was lowered.

Hikers underestimate danger of ‘suicide cliff’ in Hong Kong, experts warn, after tourists trapped during tropical storm

“They accompanied us overnight, in wind and rain. Risking flash floods, they did not give us up ... ‘Thank you’ is too light a phrase to express the profound gratitude we want to express.”

The letter went on to state: “[The rescuers] did not blame us. Instead, they tried all along to comfort us and give us confidence. The first fireman, upon reaching us, told us: ‘There is no need to blame yourselves. The most important thing is that you are safe and OK.’”

The woman had to be stretchered to safety, posing huge difficulties for rescuers who had to battle gale force winds and torrential rain.

The pair were sent to hospital on Sunday evening and discharged the following day.

Firefighters’ unions have refrained from criticising the two, stating instead that their resources and efforts were never wasted when saving lives.