Story of heroic rescue to grace pages of Reader's Digest

Michael Holtzman

A Brockton man has been named an "Everyday Hero" by Reader's Digest, which tells how Hoip “Ali” Swaby saved himself and two co-workers from drowning when an old sewer main ruptured as they were excavating 100 feet below the ground in Fall River.

Swaby made the daring rescue in October, when 85,000 gallons of water gushed within 10 minutes from a ruptured old sewer main 100 feet above, nearly drowning the workers in a sewer project mine shaft.

The February edition of Reader's Digest, the country’s largest-circulation magazine, honors the Jamaican-born, 6-foot-4, 250-pound Swaby as one of its “Everyday Heroes.” The issue is out today.

“Swaby and two other co-workers were working 10 stories beneath a street in Fall River, Mass. when they were suddenly engulfed in a Niagara-like roar of black water pouring into the sewer-overflow tunnel they were excavating,” the Reader’s Digest piece begins.

Scott Gorenstein, a representative for the magazine, said the February issue will hit the stands Tuesday.

The pocket-sized magazine has a U.S. circulation of 10 million with 38 million readers.

Their story includes interviews with Swaby, 41, the father of two sons, 3 and 7, and his two co-workers trapped with him, Kenny Schofield, 45, of Framingham, whose kids are 7, 11 and 13, and John Kanash of Barnstead, N.H., who has four children: 12, 14, 18 and 20.

In an interview following the accident, Swaby said his first thoughts as the water poured down and he talked with God were how his young sons would get by without him.

Miraculously, crane operator Mike Salvador of Fall River, above ground at the Lowell Street combined sewer overflow project, had heard their desperate cries and within moments lowered a “man-cage” to hoist them to the mark he’d previously set on the cable. He couldn’t see more than 20 feet down.

What made this harrowing story even more stunning — and resulted in Swaby’s selection as a national Everyday Hero — was that only he made it into the cage the first time. But Swaby insisted — screaming — that he be lowered back down for his mates, breaking the cardinal rule not to return once cleared of danger.

The flashlight he instinctively brought back down showed the men the way to the cage as the waters reached their heads.

“Most importantly,” said Reader’s Digest in choosing Swaby and coming to Fall River to interview and photograph the men, the heroes they’ve chosen “exemplified the best of humanity and inspired everyone around them.”

In past interviews, Swaby shook off any claims to heroism.

“We work together. We all go down together. We all come up together,” he said.

“I felt it would have been harder to leave them down there.”

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