Pilot error, safety lapses caused Robredo plane crash – CAAP
Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) - November 14, 2012 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Charter airline firm Aviatour Air Inc. and several officials of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) are now under fire after results of the investigation showed pilot error and other safety lapses resulted in the plane crash off Masbate City that killed Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo and two pilots last Aug. 18.

President Aquino yesterday disclosed details of the CAAP investigation report in a press briefing in Malacañang and vowed to hold liable the people who apparently connived and disregarded safety rules to grant Aviatour an “airworthiness” certificate.

CAAP has suspended Aviatour’s operations shortly after the mishap but results of the full investigation were only made public yesterday.

In CAAP’s Accident Investigation Report cited by Aquino, it was stated that Captain Jessup Bahinting, the pilot of the Piper Seneca carrying Robredo and two others “connived with Airworthiness Inspector (Fernando Abalos) to expedite the processing and approval of the Certificate of Airworthiness” and that Bahinting received a “pilot’s license notwithstanding a questionable completion of the pilots’ proficiency flight test requirement.”

Bahinting, also chairman and chief executive officer of Aviatour, died with Robredo along with his Nepali co-pilot Kshitiz Chand. Only Robredo’s aide, Senior Inspector June Paulo Abrazado survived the crash.

Aquino said it is important to determine what really happened that day and that as he read the initial results of the investigation, he felt both sadness and dismay as the tragedy and deaths could have been avoided if only those concerned did the right thing, had been faithful to their duties, and followed the rules of the aviation industry.

Based on the investigation, Aquino said even if Bahinting was considered an “expert pilot,” he did not have the training and experience on “one-engine inoperative emergency” and thus could not fly and keep an aircraft safe when only one engine was working.

Captain Amado Soliman, head of the Aircraft Accident Investigation and Inquiry Board (AAIIB), said among airline pilots, “even if you lose an engine and a twin, multi-engine aircraft, it doesn’t have to end in an accident.”

“But it will end in an accident if the pilot lacks the training to have that aircraft during emergency situation flight having lost one engine,” he said.

Aquino said 23 minutes after takeoff from Mactan-Cebu International Airport, Bahinting already knew the engine was malfunctioning and instead of going back to Cebu, he decided to proceed to Naga City.

“It took them 70 minutes in the air before they crashed. Meaning, if they immediately went back to Mactan, there was high possibility that the accident (could have been) avoided,” he said.

Aquino said contrary to the Piper Seneca Flight Manual Procedures for twin-engine planes, the pilot undertook improper approach procedures by having premature extension of landing gear at flaps.

Aquino said the pilot was not sure if the plane could reach the Masbate runway and according to experts, this added to the “drag,” caused the plane to slow down, lose control and crash.

The family of Bahinting yesterday denied that there was connivance between the company and the CAAP over the airworthiness of the firm’s aircraft.

“As to the issue of the fraudulent collision between Aviatour and CAAP official during the airworthiness release of the aircraft, we just have to admit that we are totally shocked and hurt for we are in any manner or form not knowledgeable to this kind of devious deal. Such things could have been prevented if everyone is just honest and dedicated to their respective honorable duties and responsibilities,” said Michelle Ferol, human resource manager of Aviatour, who read the family’s statement.

Ferol said that with regard to the result of the investigation that showed pilot error, the family believes that it is probable because they are only human.

As to the issue of material failure of the right engine, they said, “that it is but obvious that anything that is made by man is liable to fail. There is no such a thing as a perfect machine.”  – With Christina Mendez, Jose Sollano/Freeman

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