PETALING JAYA: The Star photographer M. Azhar Arif will not forget the night he and eight others got lost in the jungle in Genting Highlands.
Azhar, 30, was part of the newspapers team of journalists covering the search and rescue operation to find the missing RMAF Nuri helicopter, which had been missing since Friday.
Several members of the print and electronic media had joined a group of policemen and Forestry Department rangers for the jungle trek. They started at 5.30pm, led by an orang asli villager.
I decided to join them since we heard that the Nuri had already been located and I did not want to miss any shots, he said.
Azhar said the group used an old logging trek, hacking through the undergrowth and small trees with parang.
The journey was quite difficult because of the rough terrain and we had to walk through hillslopes. We had expected to reach the crash site at 9.30pm that night, he added.
Azhar said that after two hours of walking, one of the police officers in the group received a call on his handphone, said to be from Selangor police chief DCP Datuk Khalid Abu Bakar, who directed the men to not allow any pictures of the crash site be taken without permission.
Minutes later, a second call came in, instructing the policeman to stop the media from reaching the site.
We were told to turn back while the main group was to go ahead.
A junior forestry department officer was to guide us back to the operations centre. It was about 7.15pm by then, and light was fading fast. I think we were already about 2km into the jungle, Azhar added.
It was while making the return trek that the group could not find their way back they kept passing the same bunch of bamboo trees during their journey.
It was impossible to locate the logging trek and it was very dark. We then realised that we were walking in circles. Some of us were also stung by bees, he said, adding that the forestry officer admitted he was not well-versed in jungle-trekking as he was a new staff member.
At 7.45pm, the group decided to stay the night in the jungle and to try to make it back out at dawn.
They made a fire while some of them made calls to their colleagues on their handphones.
We chatted and made jokes. But all of us were actually very tired and hungry, he added.
Azhar said at 10pm, they saw flashes of light about 50m away from where they were.
We realised that people with torchlights were coming towards us. We were quite relieved. But strangely, they couldnt see us or the campfire. So we decided to shout to the outsiders, he added.
At 12.30am, three forest rangers managed to locate them and took them out of the jungle.
No one was injured although a Bernama cameraman hurt his head in a fall.
We were glad to be out of the jungle.
Later, Azhar learnt that the main group reached the crash site at midnight seven hours after they began their journey.
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