Officials of Aviatour, CAAP may be held liable
MANILA, Philippines - Pilot error, insufficiency of experience, connivance and a slew of factors affected the air worthiness of the plane carrying the late Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo on that fateful day on August 18.
President Benigno Aquino III on Tuesday revealed the findings of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), which investigated all factors leading to the death of Robredo, Captain Jessup Bahinting and Nepalese pilot trainee Kshitiz Chand due to the faulty Piper Seneca that fell off the waters of Masbate that Saturday.
Aquino said that when he read the report submitted by Capt Amado Soliman, the chief of the CAAP aircraft accident investigation and inquiry board, he felt sadness and disappointment.
“Iisa po kasi ang itinuturo ng mga ebidensya: 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," he said.
In his report, Suliman said the team inspected “man, machine and management” in tracking the cause of the crash.
“Accordingly, pilot error caused the crash. Pilot Bahinting improperly handled a one-engine inoperative emergency,” Suliman said.
He said Bahinting, who went unscathed in a crash in 2008 in Cebu, only had 17 hours and 54 minutes flying time in the Piper Seneca. Bahinting is also the president and chief executive of Aviatours, which owns the ill-fated airplane.
Suliman explained that Bahinting does not have experience handling a situation where one engine dies mid-air.
He noted that Bahinting dropped the flaps of the airplane, which later dragged the movement of the airplane towards its intended landing.
The 60-year-old pilot already noticed that 23 minutes into the flight, there was already something wrong with the Piper Seneca. Suliman said the pilot retained the same route for about 37 minutes instead of going back to Mactan, from where it took off.
Suliman said there could have been enough time to go back and the tragedy could not have happened. “But only the pilot will know why he did not do so.”
Suliman also noted that the right engine died when the plane was already 91 kilometers from Mactan but was still airborne for at least 17 minutes more. “Upon entering the Masbate airspace, the pilot undertook improper procedures.”
The engine was also working on “intermittent fuel supply and erratic engine firing,” he added.
Further investigation showed that there was improper issuance of airworthiness certificate for the aircraft.
Documents showed that the right-hand engine propeller was replaced in November 2011. A consequent report was filed before the CAAP.
Thereafter, CAAP Airworthiness Inspector Fernando Abalos approved a clearance for the one-hour test flight of the Piper Seneca and then gave it a “satisfactory” rating.
Suliman revealed that the flight instructor of Aviatour, Captain Federico Omolan III, was asked by Bahinting to sign the test flight report even if he did not test it himself.
After the plane crash, investigators said there was no such record in the aircraft logbook. The Mactan International Airport also noticed that the aircraft had no flight plan, Suliman said.
“Malinaw po ang ginawa nilang panlilinlang at pandaraya. Ang naging kabayaran: buhay ng tatlong tao,” Aquino said.
As such, Aquino ordered the full auditing of other aircraft. He said all licenses and permits that CAAP approved will undergo another auditing.
“At kung may makita tayong dumaan sa shortcut at lumabag sa mga nakasaad sa Philippine Civil Air Regulations, agad po nating babawiin,” Aquino ordered.
He added all regulations for flying schools, air taxis and approved maintenance organizations will also undergo further studies.
He noted that Aviatour on its own repairs its Piper Senecas, which shows conflict of interest. He said the mechanics do not have proper authorization to do maintenance audits.
“Dahil sa patung-patong at pare-parehong tungkulin ng kanilang mga opisyal, nagkakaroon ng conflict of interest, kaya hindi nabibigyan ng tamang atensyon ang ligtas na kondisyon ng eroplano,” he said.
CAAP Director General William Hotchkiss said he already ordered the creation of a special body to look into the civil, administrative and criminal liabilities of those involved, including those within the agency.
He said he assigned CAAP assistant director general Abdiel Fajardo to investigate the individuals concerned.
Asked what they those liable will be facing, Hotchkiss said "let’s wait for investigation."