KUALA SELANGOR - Two days ago, the tag "hero" would have been alien to Pasir Penambang fisherman Saari Mohd Nor.
But the word is now being used with reverence throughout the small fishing community here.
It happened after the cheerful 51-year-old and his partner pulled eight Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) officers out of the water following a forced landing near Taman Malawati Jaya yesterday.
The CN235 twin engine plane had left the Subang Air Force Base at about 8.30am, for what was supposed to be a routine training exercise but had to make a forced landing after it experienced engine failure.
Saari and his partner Low Kock Seong, 39, had been out fishing in the Strait of Malacca since 5am and were enjoying the "air show" from the RMAF planes above them.
That was until the fishermen noticed one was missing.
"There were five planes. They flew three at a time, then four together, and then suddenly we saw one plane fly away from the rest.
"I didn't think much about it, I was fishing. Then I looked up and I couldn't see the plane anymore. I thought maybe it flew away very fast and then I heard a very loud sound," Saari said.
The thought that the plane had crashed crossed their minds, and then they saw black smoke billowing from swampy waters about 200m from them. They feared the worst.
"I asked my partner, 'What do we do? Did the plane crash?' We just drove our boat slowly towards the smoke and we saw the plane on fire.
"Although the smoke was so thick, I could see the eight people in the water. They were waving for help," he said.
Fire had broken out in the mid-section of the plane from spilled oil.
"The surface of the shallow waters was ablaze," he said.
Saari said the officers did not ask for help, but had instead told the fishermen to "relax".
"I didn't think about anything else. I just thought about saving them, that's all," he said.
With Low steering the boat closer to the burning plane, Saari pulled all eight officers out of the water and into his small fishing boat.
The fishermen took the officers, who were said to be "in shock", to the Kuala Selangor Fisheries Development Board (LKIM) complex along Jalan Feri Lama.
With the exception of a co-pilot who sustained a broken left arm, the rest of them escaped unharmed.
"I've been a fisherman for 30 years. This was probably the most exciting day I have had in my life," Saari said.
Shortly after the crash, RMAF, police and Fire and Rescue Department officers were on the crash site to put out the fire and investigate what caused the engine to fail.
Police made another grisly find near the site - a village local had drowned near the plane after getting his foot caught in the mud.
Cockle farmer Abu Hassan Abu Latiff, 57, died while being transported to the Tanjung Karang Hospital.
"We are unsure if he had also seen the plane crash and had tried to help. The only thing we know is that he was there and drowned during the incident," said Kuala Selangor OCPD Supt Ruslan Abdullah.
Police had cordoned off the area while the RMAF began an investigation and recovery operation.
The process could take up to two days, he said.
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.
They were airlifted back to the Subang Air Force Base.
In a statement, RMAF said its primary focus was to retrieve the plane, which was stuck in the swamp mud, and had placed security around the area.
RMAF thanked the locals for assisting in the rescue of its airmen.