Air ambulance for emergency evacuation on Kinabalu?

Most of Mount Kinabalu climbers know that there are at least 2 helipads on Mount Kinabalu. One at Laban Rata, just before you enter the Rest House, where some of the guides and Sutera Sanctuary Lodges staffs played badminton and sepak takraw and the other one is on your way at the Summit Trail, just before Layang-Layang Hut (where the RTM station is). Do you know that it is almost impossible for an air ambulance to be called when there is an emergency situation happened on the mountain?

I’ve always been emailed and asked whether the climbers could be carried out from the mountain by helicopter. The answer is yes, but with certain condition;

  1. The weather.
  2. The availability of the ambulance.
  3. The availability of the rescue person.
  4. Whether you have a connection with some big shots of the state.

Yes, there are some big issues on evacuating victims from the mountain. Until now, there has been no written guidelines by the authorities on this matter. It’s either they do not know or they just do not want to know.

I knew this because I have been a medical personnel stand-by for 2 climbing expedition, and when I enquire about helicopter, none of the local authorities take it seriously. They will usually said that most of the time, the victims will be hoisted manually – by the porters. It has been done for so many years, and helicopter does not seems to be a preferred method of transportation because:

  1. It is difficult to get a helicopter as an evacuation services here on Mount Kinabalu.
  2. There has been NO official medical team that comes with the helicopter.
  3. It will take ages for the helicopter to arrive on the scene (although during good weather). No specific protocol for the “who-to-call” and “what-is-their-number” available for the procedure.
  4. No helipad available at the receiving Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Kota Kinabalu (the state capital hospital). Maybe the available place for the helicopter to land is at Sabah Medical Center (a private hospital).

However, the solution for the evacuation procedure that they have followed seems to be reliable at the moment – by manual hoist – and I have seen it been done quite efficiently. The ONLY time that the helicopter is available (at least on standby) for the mountain is during;

  1. Annual Climbathon.
  2. If some bigshots of the country climb the mountain.

Sound scary huh? Bottom line is, helicopter services as an evacuation transportation from Mount Kinabalu is still way too advance for the local people to adapt, with all those mentioned reasons.

However, we surely wants and will try to upgrade our services here, up to a certain international standard where it should be level with the status of being an international tourist and travelers destination.

In my opinion, it would be best for our state government to take this matter into consideration. By having a website like Air Ambulance Service, which provides a comprehensive information about running an air ambulance service in the US, will surely opens up our eyes about the possibility of the services to be adapted here. Although they generally do not provide helicopter services, the website still provides a very good information about:

  1. How to cooperate with other agencies to function as a team of rescuer.
  2. What are “flight medicine” medicine means.
  3. What will the trip be like.
  4. How to function professionally as a team of rescuer.

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About drizad

A self employed General Practitioner who lives with his lovely family in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. He dedicates his spare time serving people with precious information on climbing the Majestic Mountain of the Borneo, Mt Kinabalu. Reachable at drizad(at)

2 thoughts on “Air ambulance for emergency evacuation on Kinabalu?

  1. Jay Sanders

    – In regards to your matters on the helicopter rescue, yes a helicopter is possible during a good weather and the only good weather on top on the mountain is normally in the morning time which is normally before the think mist/clouds hit the Laban Rata area.
    – An if you wonder how long does a heli takes to get to the landing pad, well it is roughly about 25-30 minutes which is subject to weather condition.
    – Even though all condition is suitable for a helicopter landing, there is the problem of helicopter charges. Some insurance coverage for the injured person is covered with helicopter evacuation which is compulsory when you go jungle trekking in the Meliau Basin, so you the injured person is not covered then the management of Laban Rata might not want to bare the cost of the helicopter charges unless the goverment steps in. A helicopter rescue to Mt Kinabalu cost roughly RM 6+++ and this is only for the helicopter charges from point A – B – A. If you were to refer to point A – B – C – A, then the charges will be more higher

  2. drizad

    Hi Jay,

    Thank you for your clarification. Really appreciate your feedback, and your explanation are most welcome from Kinabalu climbers.

    And yes, I agree that government must step in to upgrade the helicopter services.

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