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Accidents and personal safety in Hong Kong

The expert tips that could save your life if a Hong Kong hike takes a turn for the worse

Adventure and risk mitigation veteran Mike Armstrong shares his advice for staying alive in a tricky situation outdoors

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 August, 2018, 11:34am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 August, 2018, 11:33am

When Hong Kong paraglider Patrick Chung Yuk-wa went missing on July 22, hundreds of rescuers and volunteers searched for days in the Lantau mountains and surrounding seas.

Sadly, the 44-year-old was last Friday found dead near Sunset Peak after an exhaustive six-day operation.

The cause of death has yet to be determined, but he was found on rocks with his helmet cracked and right leg fractured.

Chung is one of a growing number of outdoor adventurers to lose his life in recent years. Last year, 15 people died in the mountains of Hong Kong, up from three back in 2010. And according to the Fire Services Department, more hikers are having to be rescued.

Mike Armstrong, head of operations at Outward Bound Hong Kong, has more than 25 years of experience in outdoor leadership and risk mitigation. He has a number of critical safety tips for anybody caught in a tricky situation in the great outdoors.

Lost during a hike? What should you do?

“The first thing to do is stop, sit down, and relax,” Armstrong says. “The idea is to stay calm, gather yourself, not panic and think rationally about the best thing to do. This is often staying where you are.”

If you are lost on a mountain, you should stop at the most obvious spot, for example on a trail, or, even better, a trail intersection.

Armstrong emphasises that when people get lost, they keep wandering, thinking they can find their way again, but this makes it harder to find them.

If you are injured, Armstrong says, you should stay where you are or get to an open area. A rock with a viewpoint or anywhere you might be seen is preferable.

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“You can build a small fire, especially at night, so people can see you,” he says. “Or put on bright-coloured clothing.”

How can you maximise your chances of survival without food or water?

Again, Armstrong stresses the importance of staying put. The less you move, the more your body can handle going without food and water.

“Any kind of physical activity is going to make that [chance of survival] worse,” he says.

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Armstrong recommends building or finding a shelter – such as a rock overhang or large tree – that would protect you from sun, wind and rain, again increasing the body’s chance of survival by preserving heat and staying hydrated.

He says he always carries a small tarpaulin during outdoor activity, as it is light but can be used in a variety of situations. As well as offering protection from the weather, it can form a ground sheet or collect rainwater.

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“Building or having some sort of shelter also provides psychological comfort that helps you relax and reduce anxiety,” he says.

Shelters can be made out of bamboo or other strong, long branches.

What is the 72-hour golden period?

This period refers to a person’s ability to survive without water when lost and injured. According to Armstrong, people can get by without food for a long time, but if lost and injured, they become dehydrated quickly. The ability of the body to maintain itself without water decreases exponentially, which is the main reason for the 72-hour golden period in rescuing someone.

How can I tell others where I am?

Most of Hong Kong has some kind of mobile phone coverage, allowing you to see where you are from geolocation apps. The emergency services in Hong Kong can be reached on 999, and if you are near the mainland Chinese border, in places such as Plover Cove Country Park, you may be able to reach mainland emergency services on 112. Armstrong stresses that the downside is that phones break or run out of power.

What should I do if no communication devices are available?

“In Hong Kong, generally you want to stay on a trail,” Armstrong says. Most trails lead to a road or village. He also suggests using the sun to determine direction with a rudimentary sundial.

There are a couple of ways to send signals seeking help, for example, by using a flashlight or lamp to flash out the SOS signal – three short flashes, three long flashes, then three short flashes. Alternatively, just keep turning the light on and off in the hope someone might see it.

“Even if your mobile phone doesn’t work, the reflective surface could be used to send a signal,” Armstrong adds.

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What items are essential for a hike?

Armstrong lists 11 essential items for an excursion: a map, compass, sunglasses, sunscreen, extra clothing, a lamp or torch, first-aid supplies, a fire starter, matches, a knife, and extra food.

He also suggests taking a minimum of a litre of water, preferably two litres, depending on the hiking route and distance, and some type of shelter should be considered.

“When people go hiking … they don’t generally think about getting hurt,” Armstrong says. “All those items are essential if you need to hunker down, find help, build a shelter or stay warm if you have to spend a night outside.”

Take a fully charged phone in a waterproof case, and even a spare phone, but never rely on technology to get you out of trouble, he says.