The Ministry of Defence admitted yesterday that it could take up to 10 days to find the men, who have been missing for more than a week in the area around Mount Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia. Their rations may be about to run out.
A special team of 17 mountain rescue experts and two jungle survival instructors from the RAF and an Army doctor has flown from Britain to help Malaysian helicopter pilots, troops and park rangers in the search.
The missing men were named yesterday as Lt-Col Robert Neill, 46, from Yorkshire, and Major Ron Foster, 54, from Lincolnshire, both of whom serve in the Royal Logistics Corps, Major Foster in the Territorial Army; Lam Ywai Ki, 27, Chen Wai Keung, 24, and Cheung Yiu Keung, 32, junior non-commissioned officers from Hong Kong with the Royal Logistics Corps. All are highly experienced in jungle conditions.
The men were among a party of 10 who set out on 22 February to climb Mount Kinabalu, which at 13,455ft (4,101m) is the highest peak in Malaysia. They reached the summit five days later and split into two groups for the descent.
One of the teams, consisting of Capt Peter Shearer, corporals Richard Mayfield and Robert Mann, and Hugh Brittan and Steve Banks, whose ranks were not given, emerged exhausted and malnourished from the jungle on Saturday. Two are still in hospital in Hong Kong. The five men still missing should have arrived at base camp on 8 March. When they left the summit they had full rations for 10 days, but had placed themselves on half measures which may run out today.
They should be able to survive for some time as the jungle has a plentiful water supply as well as fruit and edible protein such as snakes, earthworms and insects. But their condition will deteriorate and some of them may be injured.
An Army source said: 'It is quite possible that one of the party has been injured and they have decided to wait for the inevitable rescue because carrying heavy weights through the jungle is difficult and exhausting.'
The missing men planned to abseil 5,400ft down from the summit into Low's Gully, named after the British officer who first climbed the mountain in 1851. Two local men who went missing in the area several years ago were never found.
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