More choppers needed for search and rescue in Sabah, government told

Search and rescue personnel in Ranau, Sabah, following the earthquake which hit in June 2015. (Bernama pic)

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah leaders from both sides of the political divide have urged the federal government to station search and rescue (SAR) helicopters in the state in the event of disasters such as the 2015 earthquake in Ranau.

At the moment, Sabah and Sarawak share two SAR helicopters which are based in Miri.

But Kundasang assemblyman Joachim Gunsalam of PBS, noting the government’s recent purchase of two AgustaWestland AW189 helicopters, said these should be stationed in Sabah as soon as possible.

“This will cut down the response time drastically as opposed to having helicopters flown out of Miri to address SAR operations in Sabah,” he told FMT.

“We have experienced disasters before, some particularly extreme ones like the earthquake, so you can see the urgency here. We can’t predict when another catastrophe will hit. It’s better to be ready and equipped.”

Housing and local government ministry secretary-general Mohammad Mentek previously said Sabah and Sarawak would continue to share the Miri-based helicopters.

He said the AgustaWestland AW189 helicopters would be stationed in Subang for now, and that the Russian-made Mi-17 choppers in Miri are currently enough to cover both Sabah and Sarawak.

The previous government had promised two new helicopters each for Sabah and Sarawak after the 6.0-magnitude earthquake which claimed 18 lives on Mount Kinabalu in June 2015.

Upko’s Paginatan assemblyman Abidin Madingkir urged the government to make good on this promise even though it was made by the former administration.

He said Sabah’s fire and rescue department should be given priority in this matter.

“It will take time to travel from Miri to Kota Kinabalu, what more to other locations in Sabah. The response time will be further affected if the weather is not permitting.

“So it’s imperative to have two choppers each for Sabah and Sarawak,” he said.

Ranau MP Jonathan Yasin said Housing and Local Development Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin had told him the delay is due to a lack of funds, as well as issues in identifying a location for the fire and rescue department’s air wing base unit.

According to Zuraida, he said, her ministry is studying the possibility of including this base in the 12th Malaysia Plan instead.

“I was told that the air base needs to be in the vicinity of an airport, to make use of the infrastructure.

“This will also help the government cut down on the cost of building the base,” he said.