Rescuers in Hong Kong save 11 at sea and two on mountain as Tropical Storm Pakhar batters city
Fire services crews pluck injured woman from cliff using stretcher and ropes, while helicopter deployed to rescue sailors from sinking vessel in waters east of city
A fireman was injured during a perilous 24-hour mission by 160 rescuers to save two stranded hikers as Tropical Storm Pakhar swept through Hong Kong on Sunday.
Rescuers were initially dispatched to Kowloon Peak at about 8pm on Saturday night following reports about a man and woman stuck on the mountain, the latter hurt from a fall.
The Hong Kong Observatory issued its No 3 storm warning at 8.40pm on Saturday and upgraded it to No 8 at 5.10am the next morning, indicating gale force winds with sustained speeds of 63km/h to 117km/h were expected.
Despite the weather, the rescuers were eventually able to locate the pair, aged 31 and 47, on a steep slope roughly 200 metres above ground, using light signalling and a phone.
They had been hiking down an undesignated trail from a television transposer station on the hilltop.
After locating the hikers however, the rescuers faced the difficult and dangerous task of evacuating the injured woman back to the cliff top, which they were initially unable to do.
“Because of the typhoon, conditions on the mountain were treacherous, the ground was slippery and there were strong winds and heavy rain,” said Kowloon Central fire services divisional commander Sam Keung Sai-ming.
“Even watercourses that could normally be walked on were turned into rapids, obstructing our advance, so we had to call for reinforcements.”
A firefighter slipped and injured his leg, Keung said.
By 5am, after conducting a risk assessment, the team decided to erect a temporary rain shelter and wait for assistance from the department’s high angle rescue team, which reached them about four hours later.
Rescuers extracted the injured woman back to the top of the cliff using a stretcher and ropes.
About 160 rescue workers and police took part in the operation, which finally ended at around 8pm on Sunday.
Keung urged walkers to do their due diligence before hikes.
“I urge all hikers to ... be aware of the weather conditions and their own ability in choosing their hiking route, particularly its gradient and length, to prevent accidents,” he said.
Both hikers were sent to hospital on Sunday afternoon. The woman was suffering from a headache and injured leg but the man reported no problems.
The male hiker told reporters on Sunday night after his rescue that they were trying to head to the MTR station but picked the wrong route. Both hikers are from mainland China.
“Originally we didn’t want to find help, because we didn’t want to bring trouble to others. But she was injured and we had no other choices,” he said.
He added: “I’m really sorry [to the rescuers]. It’s all my fault.”
In March this year, a fireman was killed in a fall from a cliff during an operation to rescue two hikers from Tiu Shau Ngam in Ma On Shan Country Park.
The Government Flying Service was unable to deploy a helicopter in Sunday’s rescue operation, but was involved in several other rescue operations at sea during the storm.
Separately on Sunday morning, the service deployed a Challenger 604 fixed-wing plane to locate 11 crew members waiting in the control room of a sinking Hong Tai 176 vessel at the peak of the storm. By the time rescuers arrived the ship’s bow was already submerged.
A Super Puma AS332 L2 helicopter joined the rescue shortly afterwards to pluck the sailors from the vessel.
Rescuers reported that low clouds and rough seas reduced visibility during the operation to just 500 metres. The stranded sailors were brought to safety in under 30 minutes.