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Opinion

Preempting analysis of C-130 flight data

POSTSCRIPT - Federico D. Pascual Jr. - The Philippine Star

Defense and military officials may want to refrain from making preemptive conclusions on why a C-130 Hercules transport plane crashed and burned Sunday in a failed landing in Sulu with a full load of troops for deployment in terrorist-infested Southern Mindanao.

Before advancing their conclusions, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and other generals better wait for experts’ analysis of the data recorded in the plane’s “black box” that was recovered Monday from the wreckage in Patikul town off the Jolo airport.

It would help also if Malacañang officials refrained from making remarks tending to paint the United States, the source of the ill-fated transport workhorse, as dumping unsafe aircraft on the Philippines. That could unduly influence the investigation and disturb bilateral relations.

The crash, the latest of several fatal incidents involving military aircraft, took 53 lives. The toll rose when three more passengers died while being treated for serious injuries.

Military top brass were saying that the C-130 was “in tip-top shape,” in very good condition although not brand-new, and still had some 11,000 flying hours remaining before its next maintenance was due.

But the air is being fouled up unnecessarily by officials’ speculations about pilot error, bad weather and a variety of other factors that still have to be cross-checked against data saved in the plane’s “black box.”

The box, actually orange in color, had recorded flight data and cockpit conversations that can help determine why and how the aircraft crashed. Conclusions based on the data may differ from premature speculations.

Talking to the media Monday in Cagayan de Oro, where the flight originated, Secretary Lorenzana reportedly said a combination of pilot error and bad weather may have led to the crash, noting that “there was strong wind that seemed to be pushing the plane.”

“That’s why the plane failed to slow down,” he said, speculating on technical matters. “Another factor maybe was pilot error, who may have missed doing something. Not the aircraft, it’s new, it arrived only on Jan. 29.”

It’s unfortunate that the secretary was quicker to blame pilot error. It did not seem fair that the pilots, identified in earlier reports as Maj. Emmanuel Makalintal, Maj. Michael Benolirao and one Lt. Tato, were no longer around to give their side.

But Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, AFP chief of staff, noted that the pilot in command (name not given) had several (he did not say how many) years of experience flying a C-130.

The general added: “I spoke to the survivors and they said the plane bounced two to three times and zig-zagged. The pilot tried to regain power because he wanted to lift the plane but it was too late. The right wing hit a tree.”

Sobejana said that contrary to earlier reports, nobody jumped from the aircraft before it hit the ground. Eyewitnesses who claimed some passengers leaped out may have seen them do that after the aircraft settled and broke open.

‘Observer’ shares views on crash

Readers have joined the discussion on the crash that dealt a big blow to the armed forces’ capability to transport men and equipment with speed and scale. That C-130 was one of two refurbished turbo-prop workhorses from the United States.

One reader is a foreigner who we asked to share more of his opinion after he exclaimed “Whoa!” in reaction to the July 6 STAR editorial’s saying the C-130 “reportedly bounced three times” during its failed landing.

Asked to qualify himself, he described himself as: “Like other Ex-AF’ers, earned AAS, BA, MPA, MS, PhD, a Concerned Observer Scientist.” We’ll refer to him here as “Observer.”

He said: “My hundreds of Mission Observer hours in C-130s, with numerous hours talking with flight crews in the cockpit, and sitting ‘right seat’ on a few occasions, taught me that this bird should not bounce ONCE on landing. C-130s should be ‘flown under power DOWN THROUGH ground effect until firm strong contact with the runway is made.’

“What some call a ‘semi-hard landing.’ Reversible thrust turboprops and brakes complete the task; keeping power ‘up’ permits go-around (second attempt).

“The many reasons include C-130’s tendency/ability to ‘float gently on ground effect’ (air layer hugging the earth) which might be useful for low-level cargo extraction, but given the pilots’ less than optimal view of their landing area dead ahead, seems to mandate a power-on descent, not a soft touchdown.”

‘C-130 safer when landed with authority’

“Observer” told us: “I am not a pilot but was a government official Mission Observer (MS) for several years with literally 100’s of hours logged in C-130s here in the Pacific Theater. I was also taking flight training and had many discussion-hours and have assisted pilots in reviewing a/c procedures as they prepared for checkrides (qualification or re-qual flights).

“So I believe I speak truly about C-130 landing procedures. They knew Stan-Eval flights could make or break them and ruin a career if checklist ignored on a checkride. Yea Standardization-Evaluation.

“Thus, my opinion: While forgiving, C-130s & C-141s both are safer when landed with authority, not timidly, nor ‘softly’ like some airline pilots (passengers!) seem to like. C-5s, C-9s, etc. also landed ‘firmly.’

“The DND spokesperson was ‘apparently’ claiming ‘pilots followed procedures’ – at the time we were still looking for the black box whose recorder will tell us if that is true or not, what the throttle settings/adjustments were, intercom orders, conversations, etc.

“Most pilots want and need more hours each month to stay proficient enough to be both safe and confident with habits that are second nature. Reactions, not second-guessing or panic, when unexpected bites you in the rear.”

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NB: All Postscripts are also archived at ManilaMail.com. Author is on Twitter as @FDPascual. Email: fdp333@yahoo.com

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