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Hong Kong rescue services

Cost to rescue two stranded hikers in Hong Kong runs into hundreds of thousands

Some 160 fire service personnel were involved in a 24-hour operation to save pair who went hiking during typhoon warning

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 August, 2017, 9:06pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 September, 2017, 8:07pm

A 24-hour operation to rescue two mainland tourists who went hiking during a typhoon warning likely carried a price tag of more than HK$344,000 in staffing costs alone, according to estimates.

A 31-year-old man and a 47-year-old woman ran into trouble on the difficult Kowloon Peak hike on Saturday, and had to be saved by 160 fire service personnel as Severe Tropical Storm Pakhar lashed the city.

According to a source, the lowest ranked fire service officer has an hourly wage of HK$215, meaning if each of the 160 staff worked for 10 hours at that rate, the total cost would be HK$344,000. This excludes the cost of equipment and other operational costs.

Fire service personnel are required to work 51 hours a week, meaning the average working day is just over 10 hours.

Rescuers in Hong Kong save 11 at sea and two on mountain as Tropical Storm Pakhar batters city

Ten ambulances and 31 fire engines were also involved in the operation, which took 24.5 hours.

Another source close to the operation said not all fire service personnel were on the front line, and many took shifts.

“Some firefighters were in the front row to rescue the pair on the mountain, but do not forget many more, among the 160, were providing back up work behind the scenes, mapping out the route and rescue tactics,” the source said.

Hong Kong Hikers director Steve Pheby questioned the number of staff involved, saying it was “absolutely ridiculous”.

“They’re there to put out fires, and while they’re out in the hills ... there could be a genuine fire in the city where it will take them a while to get back.

“I find that the resources are kind of wrong,” he said, adding that a mountain rescue service would be much more efficient. “They really don’t need that many people. I knew where they were, I could have gone there with two other people and looked after them and got them down safely.”

But Yang Kin-sang, the chairman of the Fire Services Officers Association, said he had not seen any ill will towards the couple.

“Even if one might have made a foolish or stupid decision which leads to his or her life [being put] in danger, it is still worth everything for us to save a life. And in this case, the woman was injured. The pair had no one else to turn to and therefore called us as a last straw,” Yang said.

“It is better than people being afraid of calling us for help.”

Yang added that hikers should always be well equipped and should not hike under extreme weather.

A growing number of hikers are calling authorities for help, according to police records released in a reply to the Legislative Council. In 2014, 990 hikers requested help by calling 999, which to 1,134 in 2015 and 1,327 last year.

The numbers of hikers also appears to be on the rise, with country park visitors growing from 12.2 million to 13.3 million between 2005 and 2016.