A months-long Southeast Asian backpack trip celebrating a university degree came to a halt in Malaysian police custody for two Canadian siblings who were part of a group of foreigners blamed for an earthquake that shook Mount Kinabalu Friday, according to Malaysian officials.
Danielle and Lindsey Petersen – 22 and 23 years old – were allegedly two of 10 tourists who stripped at the top of Mount Kinabalu on May 30 and are now being held in police custody with three others from the group, according to Malaysian officials, who say their actions disrespected the mountain and caused the earthquake. Officials are looking for five others who they say were of the party.
"It was going great. Lots of scuba diving, lots of surfing, lots of snorkelling," their father, Floyd Petersen, reached by The Globe and Mail Monday, said of his children's trip. Later, their mother, Joanne Petersen, said the family was contacted by Canadian officials and, "I'm sure they'll be able to do that [help return the Danielle and Lindsey home] without us providing a statement."
The magnitude 5.9 earthquake on Friday sent rocks and boulders raining down the trekking routes on the 4,095-metre-high mountain in eastern Sabah state on Borneo island. Search efforts for six missing climbers continued on Monday after rescuers recovered 16 dead from a strong earthquake that had trapped scores of trekkers.
Sabah Deputy Chief Minister Joseph Pairin Kitingan blamed the tragedy on a group of 10 foreigners who "showed disrespect to the sacred mountain" by posing naked at the peak last week. He said a special ritual would be conducted later to "appease the mountain spirit."
The two Saskatchewan natives may face charges of public nuisance, for which a 38-year-old European man was arrested at a Borneo airport Monday on his way to the Philippines, reported Malaysian newspaper The Star. The offence carries a fine equivalent of $106 under Malaysian law.
Canadian Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Jacqueline Laframboise said the ministry is aware of the two Canadians prevented from leaving Malaysia and that "Canadian consular officials in Malaysia are in contact with local authorities to gather additional information and are providing consular assistance to the Canadian citizens." Ms. Laframboise couldn't say whether the travellers were charged, nor could she confirm their names under the Privacy Act, although the identities were released by Malaysian officials.
A first cousin of the two, Miriah Petersen, reached in Wood Mountain, Sask., said Lindsey Petersen took summer courses to finish his engineering degree at the University of Regina in time for the trip. She said Danielle Petersen is studying at the same university in a program leading to work with the RCMP. "They're really close, so she went to meet up with him … they always travelled as a family," but this was their first big trip. She said the Petersen family lives on a farm in the small community of about 20 people, where "it's mostly dirt roads and hills."
The siblings' social-media profiles reveal Lindsey Petersen was travelling throughout Southeast Asia. Updates show he visited a number of countries in the region, including Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and Brunei – a gateway to Bali, where he planned to meet with Danielle Petersen in April. "We will then have an epic two months travelling together in Indonesia and Philippines" before returning home to Saskatchewan, a February update reads.
A former classmate confirmed that Lindsey Petersen was a University of Regina engineering student, where he was a lounge director and grad director, and that he'd been travelling in Southeast Asia.
Local media reported Sunday that a senior official with Sabah Parks said the Canadians could face charges in a native court for allegedly violating local native laws.
With files from The Canadian Press and Associated Press