Historic drama in photo exhibition by ST and National Museum

SAF Commandos storming SQ 117 on the early morning of March 27, 1991. Armed with a powerful lens and high-speed film camera, The Straits Times photographer Francis Ong waited on elevated ground near Changi Airport, where hijackers claiming to be
SAF Commandos storming SQ 117 on the early morning of March 27, 1991. Armed with a powerful lens and high-speed film camera, The 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. -- ST FILE PHOTO: FRANCIS ONG

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, The 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.

He 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 across the globe the same day.

His iconic shot is one of more than 400 photos 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 2013.

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

Mr Ong's photo 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 67-year-old Mr Ong, who retired five years ago. "We knew where the best vantage points were."