The heroine comes home
- Antonieta Lopez () - March 30, 2001 - 12:00am
BACOLOD CITY – Home is the heroine.

The remains of 27-year-old Air Force pilot Lt. Grace Baloyo, who went down with her aircraft in Pampanga last Monday, arrived here yesterday to a tearful welcome.

Her body was received by grieving relatives, including her mother Annie, and the officers and men of the 15th Strike Wing, the bemedalled pilot’s Air Force unit.

Baloyo’s father, Romeo, said he is extremely proud of his daughter.

"She chose to die and save the lives more than 200 families," he said. "We are all deeply saddened but we know Grace made the right and noble decision."

Baloyo’s twin engine OV-10 bomber crashed in a subdivision in Barangay Mabiga in Mabalacat, Pampanga Monday after developing engine trouble. Her co-pilot Capt. Ben Nasayao was able to bail out a few seconds before the plane slammed into an empty lot.

The arrangements for the transfer of Baloyo and her belongings from Sangley Point were facilitated by Col. Amador Alojado Jr., commander of the 15th Strike Wing.

Alojado said he was still finding it difficult to accept the death of Baloyo, whom he described as an outstanding pilot. "I’ve known her for two years and she has caught the attention of the officers because she was among the first lady pilots to become combat-ready."

Her co-pilot was quoted as saying Baloyo chose not to eject from her doomed aircraft so that she could steer it away from a highly populated area.

Earlier, Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Benjamin Defensor ordered the grounding of all OV-10 Bronco bombers pending the probe on the plane crash.

Baloyo had been hailed a heroine in the Mindanao campaign, receiving numerous medals for her participation in air attacks that led to the fall of Camp Abubakar, the stronghold of Muslim separatist rebels.

The Air Force had awarded her the Military Merit Medal, which could soon be upgraded to the Distinguished Service Star, the military’s highest award for heroism. Alojado said a posthumous promotion is also being considered.

Baloyo’s remains lie in state at her grandmother’s house on San Sebastian street. She will be buried next week at the Bacolod Memorial Park. The city government is also preparing separate honors for her.

Her mother Annie said it took some time before she relented in allowing her daughter to become a pilot. "Since she took to the skies, I have prayed to God every day to keep her safe."

Baloyo, who grew up in this city, was the eldest of four children. She graduated from the PAF Flying School in 1997.

The St. Scholastica’s Alumnae Association recently awarded the Millennium Scholastican Award to Baloyo, who finished high school at the academy.

Moderators of the school said Baloyo was "a hero who committed a selfless act for the safety of others."

Bishop Emeritus Antonio Fortich said the pilot was "a great woman, a hero who chose to die to save other lives."

Baloyo was supposed to get married next year to another pilot, First Lt. Ditto Nestor Dinopol. They would have celebrated the fourth year of the relationship last March 28.

"I know there are risks involving our jobs, but it is just so painful to lose someone you love," Dinopol said.

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