Hijacker jumps off PAL jet after robbery
- Mike Frialde, Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, Matthew Estabillo, Rey Arquiza , Marichu A. Villanueva, Paolo Romero () - May 26, 2000 - 12:00am

A man hijacked a Philippine Airlines (PAL) jet yesterday then bailed out in a parachute after taking money from most of the plane's 277 other passengers and 12 crew members.

Authorities are still hunting the hijacker, who was listed in the manifest of Flight PR 812 as Augusto Lakandula from Digos, Davao del Sur. He jumped from midair over the hilly Antipolo City area using a parachute which he had apparently smuggled aboard.

The hijacker was armed with a grenade and a handgun and hid behind a blue ski mask. He initially ordered the plane's pilot to return to Davao City from where the Airbus 330 with registry number F-OHZN took off at about 2 p.m. yesterday.

The pilot refused, however, saying the plane did not have enough fuel for a return trip.

PAL spokesman Rolando Estabillo said the plane was depressurized while circling 13 miles from Manila to permit the hijacker to jump at 6,000 feet from the plane's door 14 located near the jet's left rear tail.

The jet landed at the Manila Domestic Airport some two and half hours after taking off, and all the passengers and crew left the plane safely.

It was not immediately clear if the man who proclaimed the hijacking had any accomplices aboard.

The plane's co-pilot Carlos Neri said the hijacker was able to enter the cockpit by threatening to shoot a flight attendant if command pilot Capt. Emmanuel Geronimo would not open the door.

Geronimo was a trainee pilot who took over the plane from Capt. Edwin Nadurata in midflight.

"Buksan mo ang pinto, kung hindi pasasabugin ko ang ulo ng stewardess na ito. Wala na ang pamilya ko. Gaganti ako, kailangan ko ng pera (Open the door or I'll blow off head of this stewardess. I don't have a family. I'll have my revenge. I need money)," Neri quoted the hijacker as saying.

Neri described the hijacker as a "sira ulo" (deranged man) who only wanted money from the passengers. He said the man even accidentally fired his gun and hit the plane's ceiling.

Well-prepared

Passenger Ida Marie Bernasconi, a television reporter for Channel 13, said the hijacker carried ropes and appeared to have prepared well for his midair escape.

He used the ropes to get out of the plane, she said, but did not describe how.

"Before he left, he collected all the money he could from the passengers," she said, adding that she and the cabin crew even helped the man.

Ben dela Cruz, a tourism officer from Davao, said the hijacker appeared serious in pulling the pin off the grenade so he immediately gave all his money.

A young female passenger, on the other hand, said she kept her money under her shoes and handed only a few pesos to the cabin crew who collected money for the hijacker.

Most of the female passengers were in tears and were speechless after leaving the plane.

They said they did not have a good look at the hijacker because when he stood up, he told everyone to keep their heads on their laps and not look at him.

During the hijacking, the pilot kept advising the passengers through the paging system to keep calm and remain seated as flight attendants tried to ease the tension.

Passenger Malou Pavi said she could only pray that the plane would land safely.

Hunt is on

Police were on the lookout in the area where the hijacker could have landed.

Chief Superintendent Lucas Managuelod, who heads the Southern Tagalog police, said police were scouring the area around Antipolo toward the shores of Laguna de Bay where the hijacker reportedly fell after jumping off the plane.

Managuelod denied reports that the hijacker had been arrested.

There were reports that the hijacker told passengers before leaving the plane that he did the hijacking as a protest against corrupt policemen in Davao.

"Ginawa ko ito para sa mga gagong pulis sa Davao (I did this for the foolish policemen in Davao)," he was quoted as saying.

And there were accounts too that described the hijacker as carrying a homemade parachute made of tent materials.

The Aviation Security Group (ASG) is puzzled, though, about how the hijacker managed to bring with him a gun and a grenade without these being detected.

"We are still investigating how the hijacker was able to board the plane despite the strict security in Davao airport," said Gen. Deomedio Villanueva, head of the Armed Forces' Southern Command.

In Manila, Defense Secretary Orlando Mercado said he would order an investigation on the ASG in Davao which is technically not under his jurisdiction.

"The ASG is not under the military," he said.

President Estrada, for his part, said he was "glad and relieved" that the plane was able to land safely.

Press Secretary Ricardo Puno said the President refused to issue any comment on the incident pending the results of investigation. --

ANTIPOLO CITY ARMED FORCES AUGUSTO LAKANDULA AVIATION SECURITY GROUP CAPT CARLOS NERI CHIEF SUPERINTENDENT LUCAS MANAGUELOD DAVAO HIJACKER PLANE
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