(Updated 4:11 p.m.) A glaring “shortcut” in obtaining a favorable flight safety rating, as well as pilot error, resulted in the August 18 plane crash that killed then-Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo and two others, President Benigno Aquino III announced Tuesday.
Quoting results of the investigation conducted by the Aircraft Accident Inquiry and Investigation Board (AAIIB), Aquino bared that in November 2011, Aviatour, the flight school and air taxi service that operated the ill-fated Piper Seneca plane, used a fraudulent test flight clearance to prove the aircraft’s airworthiness.
He said the clearance was given by the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) even though no test flight was conducted, as evidenced by the absence of a record on the aircraft logbook.
“Nobyembre 2011 nang pinalitan ang right-hand engine propeller ng bumagsak na Piper Seneca di umano. Upang matiyak na ligtas sa paglipad ang eroplano, nag-file ng propeller overhaul report si Ginoong Nelson Napata, ang Director for Maintenance ng Aviatour’s noong Enero, na agad namang inaprubahan ng CAAP Airworthiness Inspector na si Ginoong Fernando Abalos,” Aquino said.
The January 7 test flight allegedly lasted an hour, and was given a satisfactory rating. Based on the investigation, however, no such record of the test flight ever existed.
“Walang record sa aircraft logbook ang nasabing test flight. Wala ring nakatalang flight plan dito, ayon sa Mactan International airport,” Aquino said. "Malinaw po ang ginawa nilang panlilinlang at pandaraya. Ang naging kabayaran: buhay ng tatlong tao." Aviatour
The August 18 crash that killed Robredo, his pilot Capt. Jessup Bahinting and co-pilot Kshitiz Chand, was the second for the Mactan-based Aviatour in six months, following a March crash in which two people died when its four-seater Cessna 172 crashed in Camiguin. In an exclusive report by GMA News Online last August, then-Transportation Secretary Mar Roxas said that he had ordered that Aviatour be suspended because of the March crash but aviation authorities did not comply.
Instead, CAAP only suspended Aviatour’s flying school, but the same authorities subsequently lifted it following an appeal from the Indonesian Embassy, which said many Indonesians were taking flight lessons at Aviatour’s school in Mactan. Collusion
In his report on the August 18 crash investigation, AAIIB head Capt. Amado Soliman said an Aviatour pilot confessed to falsifying a document that led to the approval of the company’s Airworthiness Certificate.
“Captain Federico A. Omolon III, Aviatour Flight Instructor and supposed pilot of the test flight testified that Captain Jessup Bahinting, Owner of Aviatour's and pilot of the fatal Seneca flight asked him to sign the Flight Test Report even though he did not fly the plane,” he said. Aquino said that based on the results of the investigation, it was clear that there was collusion between Aviatour and several CAAP inspectors.
"Base sa ilang papeles na nalikom ng investigation panel, sangkot rin ‘di umano sa kuntsabahan ang Aviatour’s at ang isang inspektor ng CAAP sa tahasang paglabag sa mga regulatory requirements," he said. "Kung tama lang ang ginawa ng ilang tao, kung sinunod lang ang mga patakaran ng industriya, kung nanatili lang na matapat sa kanilang obligasyon ang ilang sangkot, tiyak pong naiwasan dapat ang nangyaring trahedya," Aquino added. Aquino also noted that pilot error played a role in the crash. He said Bahinting, allegedly an experienced pilot, had no experience flying a one-engine inoperative emergency, nor was he familiar with the flight route to Masbate at all.
“Bagaman marami ang nagsabing ekspertong piloto si Captain Jessup M. Bahinting, wala siyang angkop na karanasan at kasanayan sa one-engine inoperative emergency. Malinaw ito nang nabigo niyang panatilihin ang ligtas na paglipad ng eroplano nang iisang makina na lamang ang gumagana,” the President said.
According to the findings of the AAIIB, Bahinting had ample time to turn back the Seneca plane the first time it encountered trouble, around 23 minutes after it left the Cebu airport. Bahinting, however, continued flying for another hour before the plane's right engine completely gave up, and another 17 minutes before the plane crashed.
“If they had turned back at the first sign of engine trouble, there is a good chance they could have landed at the Mactan-Cebu International Airport with both engines functioning,” Soliman said.
Soliman also revealed that prior to the flight, there was no pre-flight briefing conducted for the passengers, and that Bahinting’s latest license renewal did not cover “one engine inoperative emergencies,” the very problem encountered by the Seneca plane. Lesson should be learned In a statement, Robredo's wife, Leni, said the results of the investigation have brought closure to their family and they are
hoping that the incident will teach proper authorities a lesson. "Ang buong prosesong ito ang naghatid sa atin sa pagwawakas, at masakit man ang mga aral na iniwan nito, umaasa akong ang resulta ng imbestigasyon ay magbibigay-daan sa pagsagip ng maraming buhay at sa higit na kaligtasan ng lahat ng pasahero ng mga sasakyang panghimpapawid," Mrs. Robredo said in a statement. Despite the findings, Mrs. Robredo, who will seek a congressional seat in Camarines Sur province next year, said she is not about to blame anyone for her husband's tragic death.
"Makailang beses na akong tinanong kung may sinisisi ba ako sa nangyari. Ang muli ko pong tugon: Hindi ko pagtutuunan ang negatibo. Hindi ko susumbatan ang sinuman, at hindi sasama ang loob ko ukol dito," she said. — KBK/DVM/HS, GMA News