SINGAPORE – He started rock-climbing five years ago at a Safra club, before progressing to mountain-climbing. The youngest of four boys, Ong Eng Wu, 21, wanted to be a mountaineering guide after graduating from university.
But Mr Ong’s life was cut short on Wednesday when he fell 800m on the southwest ridge of New Zealand’s Mt Aspiring – one of the more challenging routes to the summit. He was 200m away from the peak of the 3,033-m mountain on the South Island and had been climbing with a 20-year-old companion, believed to be a fellow member of the Melbourne University Mountaineering Club (MUMC).
According to Wanaka Alpine Cliff Rescue team leader Gary Dickson, Mr Ong is believed to have fallen from a steep gully, reported the Otago Daily Times. Mr Ong and his companion – who made it to the summit and got help from other parties – were believed to have been climbing “unroped”, but this was not unusual, Mr Dickson told TVNZ.
A three-member rescue team used a strop to recover Mr Ong’s body from the steep terrain, and Wanaka Police are investigating the cause of death.
Mr Ong suffered “many broken bones and a twisted neck”, his older brother Lance, 28, posted on Facebook.
“Egg” – the sobriquet given to Mr Ong by eldest brother Eng Ju “because when he was born, his head was shaped like an egg” – was at the tail-end of a five-week trip, Lance told MediaCorp.
Lance said their mother has spoken to Mr Ong’s climbing companion. “The friend was climbing about 100m in front of Egg. Suddenly, he heard Egg shout. Next thing he knew, Egg was somewhere down below,” Lance added.
Their parents were supportive of Mr Ong’s passion for mountaineering, but worried when he did snow climbs or ascended to high altitudes. The “very cheerful boy” – a student council chairman at Yishun Town Secondary before he went to Melbourne’s Trinity College for pre-university studies – was the fittest in his family, said Lance.
Mr Ong was in his third year studying criminology and Russian language and culture. He was an “active, energetic member” of the MUMC, said club president Andy Green via email. “He showed a lot of dedication to the club… organising and leading countless trips outdoors with other members.”
Mr Ong’s body is likely to arrive in Singapore tonight.