Mount Kinabalu Tragedy (Part 4): “Spirits” had lured Ellie astray

This is the fourth day of a 10 days news series of Ellie James.

Part 4: Thursday, August 23, 2001

MOUNT KINABALU: A team of mountain rescuers today found the body of British teenager Ellie James, who had been missing for a week on Mount Kinabalu.

The 17-year-old disappeared in the mist while descending from the 13,455-foot mountain with her family and a 15-member climbing party last Thursday.

“We offer our condolences to the family as we tried our best this past week to find her, only to find her body,” said Ranau police chief Zul Baharin Ismail.

He said Sabah Park Rangers found the body at 10.21 a.m near St John’s peak where she went missing.

“The park rangers have searched the same area in the past few days but could not spot the body in the bad weather,” Zul Baharin said.

Graphis presentation where Ellie’s body was found

Click to enlarge

Her body was lying on a steep rock slope at around 4,000 metres (13,000 feet), but only 500 metres from where her brother Henry was rescued within hours of them both going missing.

It was not immediately clear if she had died from a fall or from exposure.

“We are in the process of retrieving the body which is located at a 55 degree incline slope,” the police chief told a news conference. “It’s quite difficult to retrieve the body due to bad weather conditions.”

The search for Ellie had been hampered by the worst weather to hit the area in a decade, although visibility today was better than at any time in the past week.

Temperatures high on the mountain drop below freezing at night, while high winds and sheet rain make conditions even more treacherous.

Ellie’s parents, who were also on the hike, had been told of their daughter’s death as they waited in Kota Kinabalu. Father Bruce, 54, and mother Claire, 49, had asked for privacy during the past week’s ordeal.

Hopes of finding Ellie had risen yesterday when the weather began clearing and searchers discovered footprints, a makeshift shelter and a piece of plastic tied to a tree.

The tracks appeared to be fresh and left as late as Monday night, but it now seems certain it was a false trail, being much lower down the mountain than where her body was found. Local guides had already doubted her chances and feared “spirits” had lured Ellie astray.

Bad weather can also turn a relatively easy trek into a perilous battle for survival.

Eighteen British soldiers were lost for a month on Kinabalu in 1994. The harrowing story of their survival was subsequently made into a film.

Two climbers from Sarawak went missing in 1991 and were never found again.

Resource: Borneo Post Archive

Mount Kinabalu Tragedy: A tribute to Ellie James (1985-2001)
Mount Kinabalu Tragedy (Part 2): Setback in search for girl
Mount Kinabalu Tragedy (Part 3): Signs that missing British girl still alive

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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)

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