KUALA LUMPUR: After returning to shore from their usual morning fishing run, fishermen Saari Mohd Nor and Low Kok Seong would have breakfast and read the newspapers in their quiet village in Bagan, Pasir Penambang.
They loved to read stories about heroic servicemen and women risking their lives to help people.
What they never thought was doing such heroic deeds themselves, and for their bravery, they were chosen to receive the Star Golden Hearts award this year.
On Feb 26, the pair – who have been fishing together for about five years – set out for the Malacca Straits at 5am as they do every morning.
They ended up saving the lives of eight Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) officers whose CN235 transport aircraft had crash landed on the swampy shores of Pasir Penambang in Kuala Selangor.
The officers were part of a flypast rehearsal in Kuala Selangor when their twin-engine aircraft suffered engine failure 10 minutes into the flight.
Soon after the emergency landing, the plane was engulfed in flames while the swampy soil began pulling the aircraft under the water. Four officers, including a co-pilot, were injured and were struggling to get out.
Saari, 51, and Low, 40, who were 200m from the crash site, steered their boat towards the billowing smoke and pulled the eight officers to safety.
Months later, the pair are mini-celebrities in their fishing village and many would still introduce them to friends as heroes.
The incident remains fresh in Low’s memory.
“For about three days, I kept thinking what if the plane had exploded? I could have died,” he said.
He certainly wasn’t thinking of that in the thick of action. He described it as being a natural reaction – trying to get close to the burning aircraft in the low tide.
“We couldn’t get closer as our boat was too big with smoke making things worse. I caught a glimpse of someone behind the plane and I thought to myself, how am I going to rescue them?” Saari said.
The fishermen first called 999 and gave the authorities the location of the crash. They then sought the help of another fisherman to lend them his smaller sampan so that they could get closer to the wreck.
Saari pulled the eight officers out of the water and transferred them onto his small boat which Low was steering.
They brought the officers – “who said very little, perhaps because they were still in shock,” said Saari – to a police station near the jetty.
“We were scared at first but our fears disappeared because we saw someone else’s life was at risk.
“All we wanted was to save them after we saw the plane crash,” Saari recalled.
Life was pretty surreal for the brave duo after their high-profile rescue.
Saari and Low said RMAF chief Gen Tan Sri Roslan Saad visited both their homes to thank them for their help.
The crew of the crashed aircraft attended Saari’s Hari Raya open house in July.
The RMAF officers on board the plane were pilot Mejar Mohd Azri Yacob, 41; co-pilot Mejar Ahmad Syazwan Mohammed, 32; Mejar Muhamed Afizan Jaafar, 32; Kapt Nurul Azrie Rofdi, 32; Lt Meor Ahmad Ali Meor Abdul Wahab, 26; Pegawai Waren 2 Muhd Sayfull Neezam Abdul Manan, 35; Sjn David Tonge, 35; and Sjn Suhaila Pathil, 33.
“Of course, we are very happy that people still remember what we did,” said Low. “But we just did what any Malaysian would have done in that situation. People must remember that.”
The February incident cost the life of cockle farmer, Abu Hassan Abu Latiff, who drowned after his foot was caught in the mud nearby.
This year’s Star Golden Hearts Award is supported by Gamuda. For more articles, go to thestar.com.my/stargoldenheartsaward