Hope for teenager missing on jungle mountain

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The Independent Online

Rescuers searching for teenager Ellie James, who went missing on a mountain trek, have found signs she is still alive, local reports said on Tuesday.

The six­day search for the 17­year­old was set to enter a new phase today as a 70­member emergency search team prepared to scour Mount Kinabalu, according to the Borneo Post.

District police chief Zul Baharin Ismail told the newspaper that rescue workers have seen signs, believed to have been footprints and broken branches, which suggested Ellie was still alive.

The tracks were spotted in a forested area, more than a mile away from the main trails, between 5,000 and 6,000 feet up the mountain.

Ellie disappeared on Thursday while descending 13,455ft Mount Kinabalu ­ south east Asia's tallest mountain and known by locals as "the abode of the dead" ­ in the province of Sabah on Borneo Island.

Her family described the teenager as "brave, resourceful and intrepid".

Ellie's cousin Steve Rogers, 24, from Hove, East Sussex, insisted she was a "tough little cookie".

Her anguished parents, Claire, 49 and Bruce, 51, are waiting for news in Koto Kinabalu.

The teenager was on holiday with her family, but descended the peak with her 15­year­old brother, Henry, in a separate party from that of her father.

Their parents expected to meet them at the bottom, but neither child arrived.

Henry was found six hours later.

Mr Rogers said: "Obviously we are all shocked and very upset at the news of Ellie's disappearance.

"She is a lovely girl. She's a very intelligent, very strong­willed person."

He added: "It seems that when she and Henry became separated from the rest of the party it was several hours before the alarm was raised.

"But I gather Ellie erected a shelter for her brother before going off to look for help. This just goes to show what a brave, resourceful and intrepid individual she is."

He said the chances of finding her alive were decreasing with each passing hour, but he added: "She's a tough little cookie and if she is still alive, I know she will not be giving up hope of being found."

About 50 rescue workers have been searching the mountain, a popular tourist destination, but air searches have been hampered by mist and tropical storms, with winds reaching 70mph.

Park warden Abdul Wahab said Ellie could seek shelter under huge rocks in the area, but said the temperature had plunged to as low as 8C (46F).

He said she would be able to drink rain water, but she would have to depend on jungle shoots and shrubs ­ which were sometimes tricky to find ­ for sustenance.

The area between St John's and South Peak is the same region where 18 British soldiers got lost ­ but were eventually rescued ­ in 1994 after trying to abseil down from a nearby peak.

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