FLIGHT 585: "IF I DIE, TAKE CARE OF MY KID", SAYS PASSENGER
MANILA, November 12, 2002 (STAR) The horror on
Laoag International Airline Flight 585 started as soon as the emergency
preparedness announcement was over.
As the plane hurtled into Manila Bay early yesterday morning, passenger Tess Bugarin could only think of her child.
"Everybody inside the plane was crying and shouting. I prayed hard for God to take care of my only kid if I died," Bugarin said.
Bugarin, 36, was saved by local fishermen from the bay’s muddy waters.
She recounted that shortly after the flight attendants recited the plane’s emergency preparedness drill, "I felt we were descending, and as I looked out the window I saw water. The next thing I knew, water had filled the plane and there was no way we could breathe."
While other passengers had difficulty removing their seatbelts, Bugarin said she managed to remove hers, after which she felt hands pulling her out of the water.
"I thought somebody was pulling me down until I saw the fishermen. I realized I was saved," said Bugarin, who shivered as she recalled her ordeal.
Bugarin is a project coordinator of Health Development, a non-government organization. She was on her way to Batanes to implement a health program.
Doctors declared her to be in stable condition.
Wrong place, wrong time
Gemma Castillo did not have to board Flight 585, being the chief flight
attendant supervisor of Laoag Air. Her colleagues surmise that she was simply
in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"She’s not supposed to be on that plane, being the chief dispatcher of flight (attendants) but we saw her in a hurry to board that plane," said Superintendent Moises Tuliao, chief of the 2nd Regional Aviation Security Office of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Aviation Security Group (ASG) headed by Chief Superintendent Jesus Versoza.
Castillo was formerly a flight attendant of Cathay Pacific Airways, but gave it up to be the chief flight attendant supervisor of Laoag Air.
Tuliao said that as flight attendant supervisor, it was within Castillo’s discretion to board or not to board any flights of Laoag Air. She did not board any plane for six months prior to boarding the ill-fated flight.
"At about 5:30 a.m., the pilots of Laoag Air had the engine of their plane warmed up at the Manila Domestic Airport for a morning flight to Laoag," he said. According to several ASG personnel, the engine gave signs of mechanical trouble which disappeared several minutes before takeoff.
Castillo’s body was among the 14 fatalities recovered by rescue teams. The plane’s two pilots, two flight attendants, and the flight mechanic whom Castillo dispatched all survived.
"Two to five minutes after takeoff, the pilots radioed for a return flight reportedly because of mechanical trouble," Tuliao said, adding they were puzzled because the plane used on flight 585 was a fixed wing aircraft capable of gliding when it loses power in midair.
‘How can we tell her?’
Relatives of three-year-old Jomer Dierra are worried about how to tell his
mother, Nolly Dierra, about his death. Mother and child were aboard Flight
585, but only Nolly survived and has been declared out of danger by doctors.
Jomer died upon arrival at Ospital ng Maynila.
Nolly and Jomer were on their way home to Batanes when the accident occurred.
"They went to Manila to see Jomie (Nolly’s husband and Jomer’s father) when he left for work as an international seaman. How can we tell her of the tragedy?" the visibly worried Vilma Salengua, a cousin of the Dierras, told The STAR.
Dr. Leopoldo Orantia Jr., the hospital’s spokesperson, said they will assign a psychiatrist to talk with Nolly to prepare her and help her accept the death of her son.
Flight 585’s pilot, Capt. Bernie Crisostomo, 42, is also in stable
"He’s okay and resting now. But please, I don’t want to comment about the accident right now. I still don’t have an idea what happened," Crisostomo’s wife, Felia, told The STAR in a brief phone interview.
She denied that her husband was the same Bernie Crisostomo who was deported by United States Immigration along with another pilot.
Crisostomo was visited by President Arroyo at Room 305 of the San Juan de Dios Hospital.
The President briefly talked to him but reporters could not hear their conversation as the pilot shielded his face from the cameras. The comforter he was using to cover himself slipped a bit, revealing bandages on some parts of his face.
Mrs. Arroyo then proceeded to Room 303 where Nemia Castillejos, 51, the first victim rescued from the crash site, was being treated for head and body injuries, including a blood clot in her right eye.
After briefly comforting Castillejos, the President was led to the next room where male flight attendant Adhika Espinosa, 24, lay in bed with a minor cut on his left forehead.
"When our plane finally (crashed), I took off my seatbelt and I went to the passengers to lead them out of the plane," Espinosa told Mrs. Arroyo.
Touching his arms, the President told the young flight attendant: "Thank you for taking care of the passengers. Your good training did help you well."
Espinosa refused to be interviewed by media.
The President also declined to be interviewed after paying brief visits to the five crash victims rushed to San Juan de Dios Hospital.
She later proceeded to Ospital ng Maynila where six crash victims were taken, three of whom were at the intensive care unit.
Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit accompanied the President as she visited the victims.
Manila Mayor Lito Atienza said crash victims confined at Ospital ng Maynila will be treated free of charge and their medical needs attended to.
Hanging in the balance
The fate of Bishop Jose Salazar, one of the survivors from the crash of the
ill-fated Laoag International Air Flight 585, still hangs in the balance.
As of presstime, hospital staff said a mechanical vent is still draining the water from Salazar’s lungs through an endotracheal tube. His bed at the UST Hospital’s intensive care unit is being prepared; as soon as it is ready, he will be moved from the Del Rosario ward where he is currently confined.
He is in the care of pulmonary specialist Dr. Ivan Villespin.
According to Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) secretary general and spokesman Monsignor Hernando Coronel, Salazar was rushed to Ospital ng Maynila for immediate treatment, where doctors took water out of his lungs. He was later transferred to UST Hospital at 10:30 a.m. for further treatment.
The CBCP has not issued a statement on Salazar’s condition.
The 65-year-old Salazar is currently bishop of the Prelature of Batanes-Babuyanes. He was born on March 13, 1937, was ordained as a priest on May 9, 1968 and became bishop on June 7, 1996.
Coronel, in an interview at the CBCP secretariat office in Intramuros, said Salazar visited Manila for a "pastoral purpose" for three days. He stayed at the CBCP compound during his visit.
Salazar left the CBCP compound at around 3 a.m. to go to the airport for his 6 a.m. flight bound for Batanes.
Just past 6 a.m., Coronel said he received a call from a Batanes priest that the Fokker plane that carried Salazar reportedly crashed. He immediately monitored radio reports and called up hospitals in the Manila Bay area — San Juan de Dios Hospital and Ospital ng Maynila — to locate Salazar.
Coronel arrived at Ospital ng Maynila at 8:30 a.m., carrying with him holy oil for praying over and anointing the sick. Upon learning that the hospital chaplain had conducted the anointing, he simply prayed over the victims at the hospital.
Salazar, who was being tended by his family, nodded when he saw Coronel.
"I just wanted to see how he was," Coronel said.
Coronel said he, together with CBCP president Orlando Quevedo, plan to visit Salazar at the UST Hospital.
Divers from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) had a difficult time
recovering the bodies of the crash victims.
"It smells bad! It is nauseating!" shouted one diver, referring to the aviation fuel floating on the water at the crash site.
Coast Guard Special Operations Group deputy commander Alfredo Santos, watching from PCG salvage ship 891, could only nod in agreement.
Minutes later, the public address system of the salvage ship blared a warning for everyone to refrain from smoking — the aviation fuel, after all, was highly volatile.
Late yesterday afternoon, part of the ill-fated plane had been raised with a crane but could not be completely pulled out of the water as darkness had set in.
"Earlier, two of our men were injured when a rope snapped while we were trying to raise the plane. The plane is too heavy and we do not have enough equipment," Santos said. They had attempted to raise the plane thrice yesterday.
He added that they had to tie the plane with ropes, with only a rough guess of the aircraft’s contours to guide them. It was also partially submerged in silt-like mud when rescuers found it.
"Half your leg would be devoured by the silt if you step on it. Visibility is only half a foot," Santos said.
The effort, however, was already a feat. The 20 Coast Guard divers had done everything in almost complete darkness, groping for soft objects that could be the bodies of the crash victims.
"It is tough. We could not see anything from under there. The water is too murky," said Santos, who joined his men in 30- to 45-minute dives.
The divers explored the crash site in groups of five to look for bodies. As of last night, they recovered 16, including five from inside the fuselage.
Surfing trip gone wrong
A surfing trip to the northern Philippines turned to disaster for a group
of Australians on board the Laoag Air Fokker plane.
Some of the seven Australians on the flight to the northern city of Laoag had planned to go surfing in Ilocos Norte, said Rep. Imee Marcos.
One of the Australians, Darren Green, was killed while four others remained missing after the plane crashed into Manila Bay.
Two others, Steve Thompson and Bryan Forrester, were plucked to safety from the murky bay by rescuers.
Most of the Australians were from Sydney.
Australian ambassador Ruth Pearce told reporters her embassy staff were in contact with the Philippine authorities to locate the missing citizens.
"Consular officials in Canberra are also in touch with the families of the Australians thought to have been on board the aircraft," she said.
Batanes STAR correspondent Jack Castaño III wrote that but for the flood waters which prevented him from getting to the airport on time, he would have been one of the passengers of Flight 585.
Knee-deep floods in Antipolo City delayed his driver, who was supposed to bring him to the airport. When they finally arrived, passengers could no longer check in because the plane was preparing for takeoff. — With reports from Sandy Araneta, Jose Aravilla, Jack Castaño III, Nikko Dizon, Jaime Laude, Marichu Villanueva, and AFP
Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi
© Copyright, 2002
by PHILIPPINE HEADLINE NEWS ONLINE
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PHILIPPINE HEADLINE NEWS ONLINE