Photo exhibition chronicles Singapore's defining moments

Photo exhibition chronicles Singapore's defining moments
(Clockwise from top left): Collision of the RSS Courageous; National Day Parade 2008: Performance by the Red Lions; Hijacking of SQ117; Controversial sign at protest against the Government's Population White Paper.

SINGAPORE - The hijacked Singapore Airlines Flight SQ117 was shrouded in darkness.

The sun had yet to rise and the authorities had darkened the lights in its vicinity.

Armed with a powerful lens and high-speed film camera, Straits Times photographer Francis Ong waited on elevated ground near Changi Airport, where hijackers claiming to be from the Pakistan People's Party had directed the plane to land hours earlier.

Mr Ong was the only photographer on the scene to get a clear shot of the jet in which 129 passengers and crew were being held hostage.

The grainy black and white picture was picked up by wire agencies and splashed across newspapers around the world the same day.

It conveyed an atmosphere pregnant with anticipation. Shortly after it was taken on March 26, 1991, Singapore Armed Forces Commandos stormed the plane, shooting dead all four hijackers within 30 seconds.

"As photographers, we prepared for events like these," said Mr Ong, 67, who retired five years ago.

"We knew where the best vantage points were."

His iconic shot is one of more than 400 photographs from The Straits Times archives and the National Museum of Singapore's collection that will go on display on April 27, in a new exhibition called We: Defining Stories.

The free, four-month-long event chronicles the defining moments in Singapore's history from 1950 to last year.

The photos have been divided into six sections; Merdeka - the Malay word for freedom - Home, Challenges, Heroes, So Singaporean and Our Stories.

Like Mr Ong, veteran photographer Aziz Hussin, 61, has many stories to tell. Some of his photos feature in the section Challenges. Mr Aziz has been with the paper since 1980, boarding boats and planes to bring readers shots of major news events.

When SilkAir Flight MI185 crashed into Indonesia's Musi River in Palembang in 1997, Mr Aziz flew into the disaster zone and took the first shot of a piece of the plane's fuselage as it was held aloft by a villager.

The next day, Mr Aziz and the paper's Indonesia bureau chief Derwin Pereira travelled to the mouth of the Musi River.

There, Mr Aziz snapped photos of the hundred or so passports - belonging to the flight's 104 victims - that villagers had picked up.

In a 2003 shot that features in the same gallery, Mr Aziz captured the efforts of rescue teams after Singapore navy ship RSS Courageous collided with a merchant ship in the eastern Singapore Strait.

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