This is the fifth day of a 10 days news series of Ellie James.
Part 5: Thursday, August 23, 2001
By Muguntan Vanar and Ruben Sario
KOTA KINABALU: British schoolgirl Ellie James, who went missing on Aug 16, was found dead yesterday just below St John’s peak, the second highest point of Mount Kinabalu, about 4,090m above sea level.
Sabah Parks rangers and mountain guides located the body about 500m below the peak on some rocks.
Ellie, 16, was found sprawled face down with visible bruises on her hands on the rocky surface of the summit’s plateau, Ranau district police chief Asst Supt Dzulbaharin Ismail said.
However, searchers only managed to retrieve her body from the slopes after the poor weather conditions on the plateau cleared around 2pm before taking it back to Laban Rata (3,272m) at 5pm.
Park rangers carried down the body and handed it over to Ranau police who took it to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital here by Yayasan Sabah ambulance late last night for a postmortem.
Ellie’s distraught family had been keeping vigil at a resort in Kota Kinabalu since she went missing while descending from the 4,095m Low’s Peak with them.
GRIEVING PARENTS…Ellie’s father Bruce James and her mother (being consoled by a nurse) arriving at the Kota Kinabalu Queen Elizabeth Hospital mortuary last night to identify her body.–STARpic by NORMIMIE DIUN.
Her father Bruce James, 54, mother Claire, 49, brothers Henry, 15, and Thomas, who works as an instructor with the Outward Bound School at Kinarut here, have refused to meet the media.
Chief Minister Datuk Chong Kah Kiat personally conveyed the state government’s condolences to the family at a hotel yesterday.
Describing the incident as “sad and unfortunate” Chong said that James understood the problems faced by the searchers who were bogged down by harsh weather conditions.
“We thank all those involved in the search operation. They had worked very hard,” he added.
No one has been able to immediately ascertain as to how Ellie had died.
Yesterday, ASP Dzulbaharin declined to say whether Ellie had fallen to her death or succumbed to exposure to the cold, sometimes near sub-zero temperatures.
“We have to wait for the postmortem results,” he said.
ASP Dzulbaharin said the body would be handed over to the family after the postmortem, adding that it would be up to them to decide what to do next.
According to rangers, Ellie, from Cornwall in Britain, had apparently strayed about a kilometer from the Low’s Peak trail used by some 30,000 people annually to climb the mountain.
Ellie and her brother Henry lost their way in thick fog and strong winds while descending from Low’s Peak last Thursday morning. Their parents raised the alarm on seeing that they had not returned to the Laban Rata Rest House by 10am that day.
An immediate search was launched by the Sabah Parks rangers who found Henry six hours later near St John’s Peak where his sister had apparently left him to seek for help.
However, bad weather conditions bogged down the search.
ASP Dzulbaharin said Ellie’s body was found about 500m from where Henry was found.
Ellie and her family were among a tour group of 12 people who scaled Low’s Peak.
With weather improving since late Monday, the SMART team, police general operations force, firemen and army special forces joined rangers, local Dusun guides and villagers to scour the two-square kilometer mountain plateau and also the western forested slopes.
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
Mount Kinabalu Tragedy (Part 4): â€œSpiritsâ€ had lured Ellie astray