Tribute to a hero
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin Henson (The Philippine Star) - March 31, 2020 - 12:00am

Capt. Mario Medina Jr. was one of eight fatalities in the Lionair Inc. jet that caught fire before take-off at the NAIA runway last Sunday night. The flight was a medical evacuation (medevac) mission where an ill passenger, John Hurst, was to be flown to Haneda airport and checked into a hospital in Japan. It was reported that Hurst and his Filipina wife Marilyn de Jesus previously attended the wedding of their daughter in Coron, Palawan. Hurst was supposedly infected by the zika virus in Coron and contracted the “air ambulance” from Lionair.

Medina, 67, was with pilots Ren Edward Ungson and Melvin de Castro, Dr. Nico Bautista, flight medic Edmark Jael, nurse Conrado Tomeldan Jr., Hurst and De Jesus when the plane burst into flames. He served as check pilot and instructor. Apparently, the engine caught fire that caused the plane to explode. The jet was on full fuel load to prepare for the flight to Haneda, a five-hour trip for the Westwind aircraft that can carry up to 10 passengers. According to an aviation expert, because of the sick passenger, there had to be at least one oxygen bottle, possibly with a capacity of 200 liters, on board.  

The evacuation crew died in the line of duty. Since Medina opted to retire after over 30 years of outstanding service with Philippine Airlines at the age of 60, he found a new calling in working with businessman Archie Po. He could’ve stayed on with PAL but doing humanitarian work was something that appealed to him at that point in his aviation career.

Medina did medical missions for Lionair, which Po owned, and ferried sick passengers to various care destinations. He used to be based in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore but last year, relocated to Manila to be closer to home. With Lionair’s fleet of jets and helicopters earmarked for “executive” use, Medina wanted to grow the business of medical evacuation not just for commercial purposes but also for humanitarian reasons.

When the coronavirus crisis broke out, Lionair was at the forefront of transporting medical supplies to different parts of the country and Medina was in the thick of things. In a recent text message to a friend, Medina said, “I’m doing humanitarian (work) flying all over the country, delivering medical supplies aside from medevac flights…I’m flying to Haneda and back…when I arrive in Manila, we’ll sanitize the plane inside and out then fly to Dumaguete to deliver medical supplies to Mayor Ipe Remollo…I’m exposed but I’m good and well-protected.”

A close friend said he saw Medina last Monday. “Mario was scheduled to fly to India on a medevac flight but it was cancelled last minute so we met up,” he said. “After about 40 minutes, Mario got a call that the flight to India was a go so he returned to the hangar. He was very dedicated to his work. His father Capt. Mario Sr. was one of the best PAL pilots ever and his two sons are PAL pilots today.”

Medina was one of four children. His older brother Jess lives in San Francisco. His two sisters are Sylvia and Gina. He is survived by his wife Evelyn, two sons and a daughter. To his friends, Medina wasn’t just “fun to be with” but also an inspiration because of his devotion to duty, generosity and humanitarian spirit. He was a big sports fan and avid golfer. Medina watched Manny Pacquiao fight once in Las Vegas and said it was an experience he’ll never forget.

In the battle against the coronavirus, Medina went all out to risk his own health in delivering medical supplies on flight missions all over the country. He wanted to make sure the provisions reached the frontlines. Last Sunday, Medina died a hero. He will always be remembered for his heroism, his dedication to duty and his courage in putting his life on the line in the service of humanity. We honor and salute Medina for making a difference in the lives of others.

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