The Philippine Air Force (PAF) investigating team on Thursday has revealed more details on its investigation of the fatal crash of the Bell 412 presidential chopper which resulted in the death of several of President Arroyo's aides in Ifugao last week.
The investigating panel said its latest findings indicate that the pilots of the ill-fated helicopter may have encountered poor visibility caused by unfavorable weather conditions.
Maj. Gen. Jovito Gammad, PAF Chief of Air Staff and who is the chairman of the PAF Aircraft Accident Investigation Board, said in a statement that it was "highly probable" that helicopter pilots Major Rolando Sacatani and Captain Alvin Alegata, both experienced pilots, tried to evade low clouds and thick fog along a mountain pass en route to Lagawe. Gammad said the pilots steered the helicopter to the left side of their normal route in order to find a clear maneuvering area.
Unfortunately according to the statement, the pilots were met with more thick clouds which seriously hampered their visibility and which caused the Bell 412 Number 1946 to slam into some trees and spiral out of control.
Initial investigations revealed that the 250th Presidential Airlift Wing helicopter crashed 6,900 feet above sea level between Mount Mangingihi and Mount Pulag in Tinoc town in Benguet province. Reports said that since the crash site was located 280 degrees off-course, the pilots had definitely decided to turn back instead of going through the Kabayan-Pulag "saddle" which is the usual route for PAF pilots flying to Benguet and Ifugao since the mountain ranges here are reportedly lower and hence, safer.
'No engine trouble'
PAF officials said evidence retrieved from the crash site indicated that the crash could not have been caused by engine malfunction since the helicopter's engines were on normal operating conditions during the impact, said the statement.
Gammad also said that all necessary flight procedures related to the mission were followed before the helicopter took off from Loakan airport in Baguio City at about 4:30 p.m. on April 7.
The PAF Aircraft Accident Investigation Board said it had recovered more evidence from the scene, including the helicopter's Global Positioning System (GPS) device. The device reportedly could give a clearer picture of what really happened during the final minutes before the helicopter crashed. Also reported recovered were two engine instruments (a triple tachometer and torque indicator), the aircraft's vertical speed indicator, its horizontal situation indicator, the fuel pressure indicator and the airspeed indicator with a detached needle.
The PAF is now reportedly waiting for GPS experts to retrieve data from the Bell 412's GPS system to complete the investigation.
Aside from Sacatani and Alegata, those killed in the chopper crash were Press Undersecretary Jose Capadocia Jr, the president's appointments secretary Marilou Frostrom, director Perlita Bandayanon from the Presidential Management Staff, Senior Military Aide to the President Brig. Gen. Carlos Clet and his aide Petty Officer 1 Demy Reyno of the Presidential Security Group, as well as Air Force crewman Staff Sergeant Romeo Gem Perez.