An inside look at how officers from Bishan NPC coordinated the search for two hikers at MacRitchie Reservoir and brought them back to safety.
By: Ashwini Jayasankar
On 10 April 2023 at 4:56pm, the Police Operations Command Centre was informed by the National Parks Board (NParks) that a hiker had gone off-trail at MacRitchie Reservoir and had gotten lost.
Coordinating the Police’s efforts on the ground were Superintendent of Police (Supt) Michael Ben Chee, Commanding Officer of Bishan Neighbourhood Police Centre (NPC), and Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Sherwin Lew, a Team Leader at Bishan NPC.
Supt Chee joined the Singapore Police Force (SPF) in 1999 and has been at Bishan NPC for six years. “I always wanted to be a Police officer,” he recalled. “The work we do directly affects the well-being of those we serve, and I’ve had no regrets since.”
“When we receive such calls from NParks, the Team Leader will immediately alert me,” explained Supt Chee. “We have to decide which Police resources we need based on the limited information we have while trying to establish the exact location of the missing hiker. We knew time was of the essence.”
As he surveyed a map of the area, ASP Lew was concerned that the weather might hamper search operations. “When we first got the call, it was raining heavily,” he recalled. “But we were supported in our efforts by the Gurkha Contingent and the Aerial Response Team.”
ASP Lew joined the SPF after completing his university studies and has been at Bishan NPC for a year. For him, the hiker’s safety was the priority. “One challenge was that the hiker’s phone was very low on battery, making it challenging to stay in contact with him,” he said. “But he was able to send NParks a photo of himself.”
This photo provided two important clues.
“Firstly, from the angle that it had been shot, the photo seemed to indicate that there was a second hiker with him who’d taken the photo,” said ASP Lew. “Secondly, the photo showed the hiker standing next to several PVC pipes with specific marks on them. These pipes had been placed in the forest as part of an NParks plant project, and NParks was able to tell us the general location of the two hikers.”
A Journey by Boat, and then a Hike
The next thing that the officers had to consider was the fastest and safest way to reach the hikers. Supt Chee and ASP Lew determined that a team from the Gurkha Contingent should be deployed on a boat to cross the reservoir.
A boat was quickly provided by staff of the Public Utilities Board (PUB) and the plan was carried through. “Thankfully, the rain didn’t last through the whole operation,” explained ASP Lew, “or it would have made the search more difficult.”
Once the team from the Gurkha Contingent were close to where NParks believed the hikers might be, they disembarked from the PUB boat and began tracking down the missing hiker.
At 7:02pm, the team found the missing hiker, together with another man. After a quick check, they were led back to safety. The entire operation had taken three hours.
Stay on the Trail
“The hikers were very happy and relieved to see our officers,” recalled ASP Lew. “Both were unharmed and, thankfully, only had minor scratches on their legs. It’s satisfying to successfully manage such cases, and way more memorable to do it with fellow officers who strive for the same goal.”
An avid hiker, Supt Chee know the risks of going off-trail. “Each year, we attend to about two to three cases of hikers who get lost at MacRitchie Reservoir,” he shared. “Once you go off-trail, the trees can look different under various lighting conditions and different angles of approach. If you backtrack, all it takes is a fallen tree or branch across the trail for you to become disoriented. Pack a fully charged powerbank and download any app with a GPS locator. Stay safe; stay on the trail; and plan to exit before 7pm.”