Published: Tuesday December 10, 2013 MYT 8:00:00 AM
Updated: Tuesday December 10, 2013 MYT 11:48:33 AM

Ordinary heroes: 5 inspiring rescue stories

Screen capture of a video showing a human chain rescuing Josh McQuoid from the ocean.

Screen capture of a video showing a human chain rescuing Josh McQuoid from the ocean.

Tomorrow marks the 20th anniversary of the Highland Towers tragedy. Here, we remember the event by saluting ordinary folks who became heroes when they saved others' lives – by helping turn victims into survivors.

IT'S been two decades since the Highland Towers in Ulu Klang, Selangor, collapsed on Dec 11, 1993. A nation waited in anguish as rescuers searched for survivors, with reports of voices calling from under the rubble for a whole week until they were heard no more. Forty-eight people perished. Only two survived: an Indonesian national Umi Rashidah Khoruman, 22, and her daughter Nur Hamidah Najib, 18 months, pulled out after rescuers spotted a hand waving a stick through the wreckage. Not all rescue missions have a sad ending and here are just a few from around the world that are simply astonishing. 

Kiwi boy wrestled from ocean 

In March this year, 12-year-old Joshua McQuoid was only standing knee deep in water in Napier, New Zealand, when a wave swept him off his feet and pulled him under the surf. His friend’s call for help alerted passers-by. At first, a German tourist went to McQuoid’s aid but was unable to keep a hold of him. Two police officers then jumped in, and before long, a human chain formed to pull the teen to shore. After the ordeal, which McQuoid described was like being inside a washing machine, he was taken to hospital and released after a night of observation.

Freak helicopter crash rescue

Glaswegians rose to the occasion when a police helicopter crashed into a Scottish pub in a freak accident on the night of Nov 30 this year. More than a hundred people were believed to have been inside the pub, enjoying a gig, when the unthinkable happened. But quick wits prevailed as passers-by wasted no time in pulling out survivors. Scottish Labour MP Jim Murphy, 46, was one of the first at the scene: “People were just running, climbing towards the danger.” Despite the obvious risk of fire and explosion, a human chain formed to ferry injured punters out of the pub “inch by inch” to safety. 

Saving innocents from terrorised mall

Former Kenyan defence minister’s son Abdul Haji and others risked their lives to rescue shoppers from the Nairobi Westgate Mall, under siege by religious extremists over three days this past September. Haji had received an SMS from his brother, an undercover counter-terrorism official, and drove straight to the mall where he joined  armed officers to help evacuate about a thousand people, including four-year-old American Portia Walton and her mother Katherine. An unnamed former British Royal Marine, who was at the mall having coffee, has been credited with saving 100 lives after returning to the building a dozen times during intense gunfire. The siege lasted three days and left at least 72 people dead.

Escape from burning NY apartment

On Sept 16 this year, quick-thinking neighbours rescued a man dangling from his forth-floor New York apartment window trying to escape a fire. Roscindo Lopez, the superintendent of the building next door, heard the man’s cry for help and thought: “I need to do something.” That was when he and Guardencio Portillo got Lopez’s ladder to create a bridge. Dramatic footage taken by another neighbour shows Portillo crossing the ladder towards the man and helping him across just as firefighters arrive at the scene. 

Teens on bikes rescue abducted girl 

In July this year, after seeing a TV report about the abduction of five-year-old Jocelyn Rojas, 15-year-old Temar Boggs and his friend Chris Garcia decided to grab their friends to comb their Lancaster Township, Pennsylvania, neighbourhood in the United States. On bicycles, Boggs and friend Chris Garcia spotted little Jocelyn in a sedan and started to give chase. The duo pursued the car for 15 minutes after which the driver gave up and let Jocelyn out of the car. “As soon as the guy started noticing that we were chasing him, he stopped at the end of the hill,” Boggs said. “He let her out, and she ran to me and said that she needed her mum.”

Additional reporting by Olivia Lee.

Tags / Keywords: Highland Towers, 20th anniversary, heroes, rescue, ordinary people


  1. Meet Kepler-186f: First exoplanet found to be 'almost like Earth'
  2. Harry Potter fans open 'Hogwarts' school online, enrolling students now
  3. Prada announces creative writing contest with RM22k cash prize
  4. Back to the future: Celebrating Record Store Day in Malaysia
  5. Kawaii! Babymetal, teenage girls with a love for metal music
  6. One of us: Treat our maids better
  7. Stay informed and involved to keep your children safe in the online world
  8. Too few girls: Alarm in India at impact of female foeticide
  9. Speaking their minds: It is healthy for kids to have their own opinions
  10. There is no such thing as being 'too young' to get a heart attack