Helipads, landing pads at Mulu National Park to get upgraded

From left: Law, Khirudin, Tiong and Maureen arriving at one of the helipads at Mulu National Park.

By Nancy Nais

MULU, July 14: Helipads (HP) and landing pads (LP) located at the World Heritage-listed Gunung Mulu National Park will be getting upgraded for faster and smoother landing.

A team of Sarawak Fire and Rescue Department (Bomba) senior officers led by its director Khirudin Drahman recently toured the area to survey the existing helipads and landing pads.

DayakDaily was also given the opportunity to join the team.

The group had a meeting and briefing session with Gunung Mulu National Park manager Hein Gerstner with discussions on the way forward to enhance and ease Search and Rescue (SAR) operations.

Briefing by Gunung Mulu National Park manager Hein Gerstner

Gunung Mulu National Park consists of an extremely rugged but spectacular landscape covered by dense tropical rainforest in northern Sarawak.

Accessible only by plane or riverboat, the area attracted some 23,000 visitors last year from all over the world to experience its remarkable cave, mountain and jungle environments.

While the 3.8km hike on boardwalk to the enormous Deer Cave passage is accessible for most visitors to Mulu, the other harder and higher risk activity which also happens to be the park’s most challenging undertaking is a climb up to the Pinnacles viewing platform to view the amazing knife-like karst features jutting upward from the surrounding jungle.

Although the number of accidents or incidents have been small over the years, keeping their visitors safe is a challenge itself especially when Mulu is located deep in the rainforest.

Taking everyone’s safety as their top priority, Mulu National Park management together with Bomba Sarawak teamed up to plan, discuss, and upgrade the facilities for SAR.

Currently, Mulu National Park has two HP at Camp 1 and Camp 5; and two LP at Camp 3 and Camp 4.

“There is an urgent need to do maintenance on these pads. After so many years, it is expected that these rainforests will grow including those on ground, causing less or clear visibility for pilots to see and land.

“We have discussed with Mulu National Park management and will work with Sarawak Forestry Department as well. There will be a need to chop off some trees near surrounding the LP,” Khirudin told DayakDaily during the trip.

He pointed out that the trees were growing so fast and tall, making it difficult for helicopter pilots to spot the LP.

“Another point discussed with Gunung Mulu National Park manager Hein was to install windsocks at these spots. With windsocks, our helicopter won’t have to spend or waste time circling the air looking or having to check at the wind direction. By looking at these windsocks, pilots can identify the wind direction immediately and approach to land accordingly. This will help to save a lot of time when our helicopter can approach and straight away conduct SAR,” Khirudin added.

New ‘H’ landing markers or signage at both HPs must also be repainted as soon as possible.

One of the helipads at Mulu National Park.

The current landing marker has become hidden by moss and grass covering the HP, thus making it difficult for pilots to find.

“Apart from that, all HP and LP longitude and latitude will also be upgraded. The rest, we pilots can refer to ground features as identifications of the area,” said pilot Safri Rambli from Bomba’s air division unit when asked by DayakDaily.

On July 12, Bomba also launched the country’s first Mountain Cave Search and Rescue (Mocsar) team, based in Mulu with its first batch of 10 personnel led by Hein.

Khirudin said the Mocsar team will be trained on how to find ways to give signals to helicopter pilots for guide landing.

“Flare sticks will also be provided for Mocsar personnel and Mulu National Park. In the event of an emergency and they are unable to reach the HP or LP, they can use flare sticks to show their location to pilots flying the helicopter,” he said.

Bomba Assistant Director (operations) Tiong Ling Hii, head of Zone 6 Law Poh Kiong, Marudi fire station chief Maureen Sim; Captain Mohd Hasrizal Kamarulzzaman from the air division unit; and air quartermaster Iskendar Zulkarnain Abdul Razak also joined the briefing session.—DayakDaily

Khirudin (right), Iskendar (centre) and tourist guide Lawai Kumpang discussing the need to chop down some trees at one of the helipads, and at the same time, mark the H landing marker.