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December 14, 2010

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Officer killed as he helps rescue missing climbers

Eighteen tourists from Shanghai, 14 of them students or former students of Fudan University, were safely back in the city last night after a search and rescue drama on the Yellow Mountain in southern Anhui Province.

But one policeman died during the rescue.

The group of 10 men and eight women lost their way on the mountain when trying to leave the area on Sunday.

They were rescued early yesterday morning, but 24-year-old local officer Zhang Ninghai died after he fell from a cliff when he was escorting the Shanghai group back to a hotel.

The tourists arrived at the Yellow Mountain last Friday for a weekend's exploration of an undeveloped area closed to tourists.

They were caught in torrential rain on Sunday and lost their bearings. Poor weather conditions led to breaks in communications, and some students and anxious parents contacted the police.

Shanghai policemen and officials from the university joined the search.

"Students carried GPS equipment with them," said Zhang Lei, deputy director of Fudan's security department.

"Police tried to position them through their sporadic cell phone signals," Zhang said.

The group was able to give police a rough idea of their location - near the Yungu Temple area - but the weather and the terrain made an accurate GPS reading difficult.

Police were able to map out a rough search area, and the group was finally found in the Jadeite Valley shortly before 3:30am yesterday.

More than 200 rescuers took part in the search.

The tourists walked out of the mountain together with police and local guides at about 10am.

"Their life condition is stable, but they are very low after the officer's death," Zhang said.

The university had planned to bring the students back to Shanghai early in the afternoon, but they insisted on staying until the policeman's body had been recovered.

They group bowed their heads and some cried as his body was carried down from the mountain at about 4pm. The students later paid tribute to the officer who had sacrificed his life during their rescue on the university's bulletin board.

"Zhang Ninghai was not on duty and volunteered to join the search," said Dong Guangyu, director of the Wenquan Police Station in the scenic area. "He was standing on the cliffside to shine his torch to help a woman tourist when he lost his footing and fell."

Of team leader Hou Pan, Chen Linfeng, a junior student of Fudan and an official of the university's climbing club, said: "Hou is a previous member of our climbing association. He is very experienced. He has climbed many mountains including snow mountains before."

But Chen criticized the students for calling for help when they had enough food and tents to survive another night in the open.

Chen, who didn't joint the trip, said they could have managed it themselves.

"They were not in a very dangerous situation. They had enough food and had tents," Chen said.

But Hou said he decided to call police for help because he was concerned for the safety of the more inexperienced members when weather conditions worsened.

"We didn't have much food and it's very cold in the evening," Hou said in a TV interview. "I could not guarantee that every member can withstand the night freeze."


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