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Remembering The Teachers, Students And Mountain Guides Who Perished In The Sabah Quake

Before tragedy struck, the victims of the Sabah earthquake had so much to live for and to look forward to.

Cover image via SAYS.com

The 5.9-magnitude Sabah earthquake sent rocks and boulders raining down trekking routes on Mount Kinabalu, claiming a total of 16 lives with 2 more missing but presumed dead

With intimate insights from the victims' friends and loved ones, here is a brief look into the victims' lives before tragedy struck:

Robbi Sapinggi, a 30-year-old mountain trainer, was separated from his wife Reena for a few months after their wedding when she had to return to England unexpectedly. The couple also has a six-month-old son.

Robbi, whose body was one of the first to be discovered on Friday, urged his guest to continue climbing down the mountain while he remained alone to wait for help. Robbi, who'd sustained head injuries, was not able to make it down the mountain in time to receive proper medical attention and eventually died due to blood loss.

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Image via Sheau Fong Wong

Robbi and his wife Reena Joshi had been separated for a few months after their wedding in September because she had to return to England unexpectedly. She was not even able to return to Sabah to give birth to her son, now aged six months.

Reena said she flew in from England with her son with the intention of staying in Sabah for the long-term.

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When asked how she felt about her husband’s sacrifice, Reena said it was just “one of his attributes”.

“He was a real character and fun loving. He would go out of his way to do anything and everything for everybody. He always put others first before himself. He was a great husband, and he’s a father now. He was a very, very caring father. He was always smiling, that was the best thing about him,” said Reena with a weak smile between the tears.

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Valerian Joannes' last words to his family were "I am leaving" as he left a family gathering more than a month ago. The 27-year-old was also engaged to be married in November this year.

"I am happy that he died a hero," said Valerian's father Joannes Lubak, adding that Valerian had done his best trying to rescue the climbers from falling rocks and boulders when the mountain shook.

"I was told that Valerian grabbed the harness of the students and tried to shield them from the falling rocks but the rope snapped," he said.

All of them were believed to have fallen together with the piles of rocks and boulders.

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“I am leaving,” were the final words uttered by the late Valerian Joannes, 27, to his father as they parted after a family gathering held on May 30.

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Valerian's father said that was the last time he saw his son alive. “I tell him take care, be careful (of his) work,” he said.

As Valerian lives in the staff quarters at Mount Kinabalu, he would return home only about five times in a month, said Valerian's cousin Felix Finien Yandang in an interview with TODAY at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, where Valerian’s body was identified by his father on Saturday.

He’s so kind, so helpful, (he just) wants the Singapore children to be safe,” Felix added.

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Mountain guide Joseph Solugin, 33, was last seen shielding two of his guests from the landslide of rocks and boulders. He is survived by his wife, a 4-year-old son, and a 2-year-old daughter. Joseph had earlier promised him wife that he will be home to celebrate their wedding anniversary on 12 June.

In a Facebook post tribute posted in honour of Joseph Selungin:

"Joseph was found beneath a boulder, in the heroic act of shielding two of his guests. Unfortunately, the three of them didn’t survive.

Joseph was last seen hugging two of his guests, in an attempt to protect them, using his body as a shield, an account related by his fellow mountain guide colleague, Sharulnizam Suhaji. Sharulnizam describes Joseph as an easy-going person with a good heart, soft-spoken and always kind.

Joseph has been a member of our team for almost 2 months. He has brought nothing but good memories and experiences for our fellow climbers. A man of courage and uncompromising thoughtfulness. His good-will and high-spirits will forever be remembered by all the lives he has touched."

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Muhammad Daanish bin Amran, who was the Singaporean guide for a group of students from Tanjung Katong Primary School (TKPS), was believed to have sacrificed himself to save the students from harm. Friends and family describe him as a "kind man" who will "go out of his way to help others".

Camp instructor Muhammad Daanish Amran was a lively, jovial person whom "it was impossible to feel unhappy around", the 22-year-old's friends and family said last night.

Daanish's uncle remembers his nephew - who was the eldest of three siblings - as a kind man who helped carry luggage when they went on family trips. The last time he saw him was a month ago when they were volunteering at a mosque event.

"Whenever we had barbecues, he was always the one cooking the food and serving us," he said.

Colleagues at Camp Challenge, which ran the Mount Kinabalu trip, said that the engineering graduate from Nanyang Polytechnic was passionate about adventure and sports.

The freelance instructor was "the type who would go out of his way to help others", said friend and colleague Farizah Jasin, 24.

Fellow instructor Muhammad Hairi, 23, said that Mr Daanish was "promising" and had the potential to be a full-time instructor at Camp Challenge.

"There was never a doubt about his technical skills or his ability to take care of the pupils," he added. "Before he left for Sabah, he asked about the terrain there and the challenges he may face. He was one of the rare instructors who asked me so many questions."

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Even as a child, Daanish was an outdoor activities lover, said his childhood friend Geraldine Mark.

“He lives a few blocks away from me, so we used to meet at the playground every evening and play football or other games. He was a funny person, really easygoing," Geraldine recounted.

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Loo Jian Liang Terrence, a 29-year-old teacher who accompanied the group of students, is remembered as a friendly guy who helped "break the ice" among a group of peers at a teaching course

Engineer Low Jun Wei, 29, met TKPS teacher Terrence Sebastian Loo on a teaching course four years ago.

He was very friendly and helped to break the ice between everyone by coming over and saying ‘Hello’ to all of us,” said Low.

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Peony Wee Ying Ping's father had initially objected to his daughter joining the six-day trip, but relented after her mother gave her permission. Family members remember the 12-year-old as a "happy-go-lucky" and "adventurous" person who also dotes on her younger sibling.

Peony's father, Alson Wee, 51, described her as “active” and “jovial”.

“She’s talkative, which is good because she could practice her debating (skills)," he said, smiling as he describes his daughter.

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Wee also said his daughter was a sociable, active girl who played netball and the piano, read widely and loved wanton noodles.

"She was very loving, very helpful," said Mr Wee, adding that Peony would sometimes call home after netball practice and offer to buy food for her family.

"We would always tell jokes to each other," Peony's older brother Chester, 14, said, holding back tears at his sister's wake last night. "She was very happy-go-lucky and always looked on the bright side. For example, if her grades were not good, she would say, 'at least I passed'."

Indeed, many family members and friends described the 12-year-old as a lively, cheerful girl who frequently helped out at her mother's traditional Chinese medicine clinic.

"She liked to try all kinds of new things. She was very adventurous," said Peony's aunt, Ms May Mah, 43.

Family friend Leong Kok Toong, 52, described Peony as a doting sibling to her 1-year-old sister Felicia, saying, "She was like a mother to her younger sister."

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Her father did not want her to go on the school trip to Mount Kinabalu initially, as they felt the climb was not easy and examinations were coming up in two months. But Peony begged and her mother relented.

Peony's father changed his mind after considering that the children would be accompanied by their teachers. Also, he had not allowed Peony to go on a school trip to Taiwan a few years ago, and he did not want to disappoint her again. He paid $600 for the trip to Mount Kinabalu.

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Filipino-Singaporean Karyl Mitzi Higuit Matahom, whose family moved to Singapore over 10 years ago, had plans to travel the world with her parents

Ameer Ryyan bin Mohd Aded is not just a competitive and promising football player, he is also remembered as a thoughtful boy with a big heart - he once gave a pair of football boots to a friend simply because his friend jokingly asked for them

Syarf Haqqani Teguh, 12, recounted a heart-warming anecdote: "Ameer's grandfather bought him soccer boots from Germany. I was joking with him, asking if he could give them to me. He then asked if I really wanted them and he gave them to me. I'll wear them until they're spoilt and I'll get them repaired. I'll treasure them."

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Ameer's friend, Syarf Haqqani Teguh.

Image via Pichayada Promchertchoo / Channel NewsAsia

The last time 12-year-old Keito Kowaka met his football team-mate Ameer Ryyan Mohd Adeed Sanjay, they went out for a meal and had bubble tea. Little did he know that it would be the last time he saw his friend, who was known for his football skills and was an member of F-17, started by local football legend Fandi Ahmad.

“He was a competitive boy and very good in football. He was called for the Singapore Sports School trials,” said Keito of Ryyan, who was vice-captain of TKPS’ football team.

Former student Andre Aide Iskandar, 14, also recalls scouting Ryyan into the football team. He had noticed Ryyan’s footwork and speed while he was playing football during recess on the first day of school.

I’m very sad to hear about Ameer Ryyan because he has been like a little brother to me. I’ve been taking care of him since he was in this school,” he said.

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Ahmad Mirza bin Mohd, 12, used to play football with Ameer at the F-17 football academy. "He always looks after his friends and never gets in trouble. We played football together and had fun. He was a skillful football player."

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At the time of writing, TKPS teacher Mohammad Ghazi Mohamed, 35, and student Navdeep Singh Jayral s/o Raj Kumar, 12, have yet to be found but are presumed dead by search and rescue (SAR) teams.

It is reported that Navdeep's father had died two years ago and his sister does not know how their mother will cope if something happens to him.

PE teacher Mohammad Ghazi Mohamed, who once wrote in "Leave no man behind" in the TKPS school album, is described as a caring and compassionate teacher who always encourages his students to do their best

Lee Yoo Jin, 17, a former TKPS student recounted her memories of Mr Ghazi, who led her on the same trip five years ago when she was at TKPS.

The Physical Education teacher and hockey teacher-in-charge was a dedicated educator, said Lee, citing a quote that he once wrote on the school’s album: “Leave no man behind”.

Ghazi was also Tara’s form teacher last year, and taught her English and Physical Education.

“Mr Ghazi (is) a very caring teacher. He always encouraged us to do our very best. He always showed compassion for his students in everything he did,” she said.

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Courageous mountain guides and SAR teams have been racing against time to rescue climbers who were stranded in Mount Kinabalu after the quake for the past few days:

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