Thursday, December 12, 2013

Highland Towers Tragedy, 20 Years On

20 Years ago today, On Dec 11, 1993, Block A of the Highland Towers condominium complex in in Taman Hillview, Ulu Klang, Selangor, Malaysia came crashing down after days of heavy rain, killing 48 people.

Today on the 20th anniversary of the worst construction tragedy in the history of Malaysia, I went and look at my pictures archives of the tragedy again.

 20 years ago, on that faithful day; I was working as a Picture Editor for the Singapore Press Holdings, looking after the photo division of the three Chinese Newspapers.

Life was good, I was head hunted from New Zealand; my boss like me, he approved the latest "toy" that I requested..
That's moi, at the first electronic picture desk that I set up for the paper; you do not want to know how much that Apple Quadra 950 computer cost!


When we got the news of the Highland Tower's collapse, my boss immediately dispatch me to Kuala Lumpur to cover the tragedy.

Why me?

Because I have been working with Malaysian paper since 1974, till we migrated to NZ in 1988.

20 years ago, I was 46 year old; to get to the news site, I have to do a one hour climb up the hill (the Towers were at Hillview); with 20 kg of camera gears and tripod on my shoulder, I thought I was not gonna make it! So in some way, I was secretly happy and proud that I did make it! ;)

Looking at my image archives of the Highland Towers tragedy, I realise there are quite a few shots; for one reason or another, were not published.

It has been 20 years, I feel it is the right time to show them.

These shots were taken with the 600mm super-telephoto lens, in some shots a 2X tele converter were added to increase the lens to 1,200mm. Yes, we were that far away from the ruins.

 Bad Luck Car number Plate?

Firemen checking the garages at the collapsed block where many luxurious vehicles were destroyed.

To the superstitious Chinese, the blue car with the "BCY4214" plate must have brought the owner bad luck! In Chinese Cantonese dialect, "4214" sound like "easily die"! Bad Omen indeed!

Asian Chinese takes the "number meaning" very seriously.

Alfa Romeo found out the hard way when they launch their model "164" in Asia, the sales were a disaster because to the Chinese, 164 sounds like "die on the road"!

I was told that Alfa actually changed their model to "168" which sound like "prosperous all the way" just for the Asian market!!

Malaysian firemen on the collapsed tower, what were they doing? Notice the slope where the earth was washed away by the continuous days of rain.

The Pain...

The Chinese said that the most painful is to bid eternal farewell to the younger generation, my heart cry for them too.

Grief of a father... The son of former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Musa Hitam, (right); Carlos Rashid and his wife, Rosina Datuk Abu Bakar were killed.

The Horror...

 The horror of the tragedy sets in...

Lucky Man

Alive with a small head wound.

Lucky Dog


Much to the delight of her owner, this lucky pet was found unharmed wandering near the ruins of the collapsed tower.

Much to the distress of the dog though, she was being hounded by the huge media circus at the site!

Beat me why so many local press photographers shooting from the wrong side!

Man's Best Friend

Rescue team members from Malaysia checking the collapsed block with the help of man's best friend....

The media covering the tragedy were "shut out" from the scene, hundreds of meters away.

This picture was shot with the huge 600 mm f4.5 lens plus a 2X converter on a heavy tripod. Even at an effective 1,200mm focal length, 75% of the negative had to be cropped away to get this image.

Horror Hits Home

The horror of the collapse hitting home.....rescue team members found a baby walker together with other belongings from the collapsed block.

This picture was taken on my second day there.....not wanting to suffer a heart attack, I left the monster 600 mm in the hotel and took my 300 mm f2.8 and a 2X extender which captured this scene.

I was watching them through my super tele for thirty minutes and all they did was trying to find something in the rubber, it was heart wrenching scene that you realised your love one are dying and the whole rescue operation was tipsy turfy :(

Does that look like anybody was in a hurry to rescue some one? Sad :(

A rare 10 minutes when the media circus were taken near the site where bulldozers dredges. It was here that we got a strong whiff of decaying bodies!
 
 DART, the famous search and rescue team from Singapore move in to help, divine intervention were also summoned to support. Both failed to find any survivors.

The Cock Up and A Decisive Moment...

I was stuck at the site with dozens of photographers and reporters. Hiding from the pouring rain under a shed at the Highland Tower site when news came that the rescuers think there are survivors!!

At the corner of my eye I noticed some relatives and friends behind me were holding hands for moral support.

I swung around and grabbed one single shot with whatever lens that was attached to my EOS-1....damn!...it was the 70-210 zoom!

No chance for a second take because I was nearly attacked by the person next to me!!

Obviously he Does NOT want any picture taken of those people inside the shed!

Not knowing if I got the shot, but dying to find out; I walked into the down pour and headed down hill!

It took me two hours standing in the torrential rain before a cab agreed to take me to my hotel, "at a special no meter fare" of 150 Ringgit!

You should see the faces at the hotel reception desk when I sloshed in, leaving a long trail of water behind! Ha ha ha.

Thanks to my Tenba Pro Pak,my cameras and lenses are all bone dry!!!

No, I do not work for Tenba :-)

I rushed to Reuters KL office after a quick change of clothes, my ex colleague and prodigy, CH Goh got all my film processed and lo and behold, I got ONE shot of THAT moment!

Due to some glitches, the transmitted image took hours to reach Singapore!!


"I Am Still Alive" ?

This symbolic and exclusive picture was ran big next day on the front of the Singapore paper I worked for with a heading: "I Am Still Alive!"

Alas, it was a bungled and heart breaking announcement from the rescue team!

The Malaysian translator translated the message from the French team wrongly!

How the hell they translated "I think I heard a knock!" to "I think someone is alive!" I never know!

Every newspaper in Malaysia and Singapore (except the New Straits Times, rumors has it they knew about the cock up) had the same heading and had to apologise the next day!

Famous Last Words..

20 years on, have we learn a lesson from the Highland Tower tragedy?

Former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Musa Hitam who lost a son and daughter in law said:

"I must confess that when the tragedy happened, one of the things I knew for certain – inside I felt this anger – was that it was the result of wishy-washy work, of people not being responsible. I also thought there must have been elements of corruption and neglect.
 

The sad thing is that in the last 20 years, things don’t seem to have changed. There have been so many similar tragedies and sure enough we get everybody making the same expressions of regret, anger and promises to prevent recurrences. It’s all talk, and nothing seems to have been done especially in the form of laws, regulations and, most importantly, enforcement.”
On Dec 11, 1993, Block A of the Highland Towers condominium complex came crashing down after days of heavy rain, killing 48 people, including a Japanese woman who was pulled out of the rubble alive. - See more at: http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/highland-towers-20-years-on#sthash.7vUIdBt1.dpuf
On Dec 11, 1993, Block A of the Highland Towers condominium complex came crashing down after days of heavy rain, killing 48 people, including a Japanese woman who was pulled out of the rubble alive. - See more at: http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/highland-towers-20-years-on#sthash.7vUIdBt1.dpuf
On Dec 11, 1993, Block A of the Highland Towers condominium complex came crashing down after days of heavy rain, killing 48 people, including a Japanese woman who was pulled out of the rubble alive. - See more at: http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/highland-towers-20-years-on#sthash.7vUIdBt1
On Dec 11, 1993, Block A of the Highland Towers condominium complex came crashing down after days of heavy rain, killing 48 people, including a Japanese woman who was pulled out of the rubble alive. - See more at: http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/highland-towers-20-years-on#sthash.7vUIdBt1.dpuf
.dpuf

1 comment:

TheNomad said...

Thanks for posting. Great images. Looking forward to exploring more of your blog.