Penampang residents in grief after Moyog River claims lives of two teens

Firemen and villagers bringing the remains of one of the boys up from the Moyog river.

KOTA KINABALU: Sorrow gripped Penampang residents again as the Moyog River claimed two more lives on Saturday (June 18).

The cries of Walter Joseph and Helda Biun rang out along the river as they desperately called out to their son Harold Walter who along with friend Tomansi Olaf, both 17, went missing while going for a swim at Kampung Pogunon just before 4pm that fateful day.

The two buddies had gone for a dip with four other friends of the same age before a friendly football match.

That would turn out to be a tragic decision when Harold and Tomansi were suddenly swept away by strong currents while their friends - Jeremiah Maxwell, Constant Felix, Jameson Johnwai and Bryan Lee - managed to save themselves after scrambling to higher ground.

After news of the incident broke, the parents and the whole community in the area, together with rescuers from various agencies, scoured the river for the two boys.

Family and friends also posted on social media, seeking those residing in the village to look out for the boys.

A despondent Helena Biun, who is Walter’s aunt, noted that everyone in the community came together to scour the river looking for the missing teenagers.

"We all called out to them, everyone did what they could," she said when contacted.

Walter’s remains were found at 2.45pm on Sunday (June 19) while Tomansi’s body was found at 11.04am on Monday (June 20).

Hayden Carlos described his cousin Walter, who was an altar boy at church in Penampang, as a shy and quiet person while Tomansi was opposite - an active and friendly boy.

"We all go to the same Sekolah Menengah St Michael. Although I am one year younger than them, I was close to both, especially Tomansi ... words cannot describe how much we miss them," he said.

Hayden said the six boys had decided to go for a swim at 1pm before their football match later that evening.

"A couple of the boys who survived the ordeal told me they were swimming as normal when the current started to get stronger and a gush of water suddenly swept in," he said.

Many lives have been lost in the notorious Moyog River over the years to drowning incidents due unpredictable current caused by heavy rainfall in the Penampang highlands.

Earlier, Penampang fire station chief Zeno Tingalan said the boys had to cross two streams before reaching the main area for a swim.

While Harold and Tomansi were washed away by the current, the four others were trapped at higher ground as they could not cross the streams, which had turned into a river, to reach to safety.

Zeno said firemen were rushed to the area after being alerted of the incident at about 4.10pm.

Due to the strong river currents, he said, one of their men had to tie himself with a rope while bringing life jackets to the four boys across the river.

He said, on reaching the boys, the fireman told them to put the life jackets on while he secured the rope on a steady and strong point, before bringing the boys across one by one.

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