Ellie’s true story : Our holiday 2001, Part 4

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We arrived at Park Headquarters and discovered that we were unable to stay in Kinabalu Park, the accommodation being fully booked. We decided to join the rest of our group at Poring Hot Springs, as we had rooms waiting for us. After talking to the park warden who was co-coordinating the rescue and learning that they intended to send a helicopter up to look for her as soon as the fog cleared. We left by minibus for Poring. It was getting dark as we began the ninety-minute ride. We all sat silently, praying and weeping to ourselves. It was a very sombre journey after two weeks of camaraderie and fun.

Poring is beautiful, although we were in no mood to enjoy it. Henry had been found, but despite assurance that he was fine, we just wanted to see him for ourselves. Ellie, darling reckless Ellie, was still missing, cold alone and frightened on the highest mountain in South East Asia. We had a lovely room but could not sleep for thinking about how she must be feeling. It was the first of many agonizing nights. At four o’clock we walked in the grounds and listened to the rain forest waking. We thought that she would also be waking and prayed that she would feel energized by our prayers. The hibiscus bushes were exquisite and reminded us of the huge one we have in a pot on our balcony in Germany. We suddenly felt very homesick and wanted everything to return to normal. It never did.

Jacquie, our tour guide, met us with a minibus at 07.00 and we travelled back to Mount Kinabalu. It was a shame that we could not appreciate the drive, as there were dogs and cows lying at intervals across the road, something that we would otherwise have found amusing. The park headquarters’ staff was kind and discreet. They moved quietly around us, bringing coffee and sandwiches to a comfortable lounge and giving us regular updates on their progress. The morning seemed endless. We received phone calls from the High Commissioner in Kuala Lumpur, the Chief of Police and the Sabah Tourist Board.

We also understood that the local and British press had got wind of a story. We were anxious that nothing should be released until we had been able to contact Tom at work in Kinarut and our families in England. We felt like caged lions in the lounge, so went downstairs at 11.00 to look at the museum. It was beautifully arranged and worthy of a visit. We should have gone there sooner as the time started to pass more quickly and it would soon be time for Henry to arrive.

Henry walked towards us looking surprisingly normal after such an ordeal. We had an emotional reunion outside the building and went back into the lounge. Henry sat close to us and was able to give a remarkably lucid account of what had taken place. I felt so proud of him. It was astounding that a fifteen year old, who had endured what he had, could behave in so mature a manner. Henry drew diagrams to show how they had sheltered together and the terrain that they had crossed. By looking at the topographical maps displayed on the walls of the lounge, he was able to give us a much clearer picture of where Ellie had gone. He had been absolutely right in the information he had given to the guide who found him. Surely, it was just a matter of time before she was found.

Jacquie returned shortly afterwards with the news that we were to transfer to the Tanjung Aru Resort in Kota Kinabalu. This is the most expensive hotel in Sabah and definitely out of our price range. We felt rather embarrassed by this kindness. Travelbag thought that we could wait comfortably for news of Ellie and once found she could spend a few days recuperating in luxury. She would be able to enjoy the swimming pool, go wind surfing and even dive off the nearby islands. We agreed, but were still praying that the cloud would lift from the mountain, so that the army helicopters would be able to join the rescue and bring her to us at Tanjung Aru.

The next few days were the strangest we have ever spent. We were prisoners in a five star detention centre. We had two adjacent rooms with a connecting door, so rarely needed to venture out into the corridor. Torn came to stay with us and gave tremendous support to Henry who had begun to question why Ellie, who had been so brave, had been the one to get lost. He felt guilty and kept re-living the events of the last few hours he spent with her. It was awful.

Once we had broken the news to our families and closest friends, the phone never stopped ringing. It was wonderful that so many people wanted to speak to us, but exhausting to say the same thing over and over again. Jacquie was phoning from the mountain at regular intervals, but each time it was the same. The weather was still bad due to the typhoon centred over the Phillipines. We could see that by the waves on the murky sea and the cloud that obliterated our view of Mount Kinabalu.

Each morning that dawned brought new hope, each evening brought despair. Perhaps the worst time of the day was four o’ clock as we knew that there were only two hours of daylight left in which to find Ellie and certainly insufficient time to begin a helicopter rescue. During the day we would escape the luxury hotel compound for an hour at a time and walk two miles down the public beach where nearly everyone would greet us with delightful smiles and say: ‘Hello. How are you? Where are you from?’

Tom and Henry flew to Sandakan on Monday 20 August to visit the orangutan sanctuary at Sepilok. This was to have been the final visit of our holiday and the one Ellie and Henry had been most looking forward to. There was no need for the boys to wait in our room for news. They stayed overnight and made a second visit to watch the orphans being fed on milk and bananas, telephoning every few hours. There were six flights each day so they could get back quickly if necessary. The weather was bright and clear at Sepilok; perhaps it would clear further west tomorrow.

To be continued to Part 5…

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