Aviation execs rule out foul play in crash that killed RobredoBy Cathy Yamsuan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines–Aviation authorities have ruled out foul play in the plane crash that killed Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo and two pilots almost a month ago.
Retired Captain John Andrews, Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines deputy director general, on Monday told a congressional joint committee examining his agency’s performance that he considered the crash of the four-seater Piper Seneca plane, owned by Cebu-based Aviatour Air, “an accident that was waiting to happen.”
Andrews and his superior, CAAP director general William Hotchkiss III, however, immediately asked members of the joint committee, led by Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., for an executive session.
The senator said the hearing was supposed to serve as a forum where CAAP officials would explain why the Philippines remains in the blacklist of several international aeronautics agencies and cannot send airplanes directly to Europe.
Hotchkiss, a retired Air Force lieutenant general, told the joint committee that the CAAP has formed a panel to investigate the crash. He assured lawmakers that this panel “can render an impartial and very thorough investigation.”
The CAAP chief said once the investigation is complete, the agency can consider “punitive action” on those found responsible for the crash.
However, Hotchkiss added that “we cannot reveal right now what the (panel) has uncovered so far.”
Andrews immediately seconded the statement.
Robredo, Aviatour owner and pilot Capt. Jessup Bahinting and Nepalese student pilot Kshitiz Chand were killed when the plane flying from Cebu City to the secretary’s hometown of Naga City allegedly experienced trouble in its right engine and crashed into the sea off Masbate on Aug. 18.
Robredo’s police aide, Jun Abrazado, the lone survivor, was rescued by a fisherman, who reportedly saw the aide floating on the water just minutes before the crippled aircraft sank into the bay.
A team of technical divers retrieved Robredo’s body from the sunken fuselage, located at a depth of 55 meters and 800 meters from the shoreline, on Aug. 21. The bodies of Bahinting, 61, and Chand, 21 were recovered on Aug. 22 and Aug. 23, respectively.
“It is established that there is no foul play. Maybe it was an accident that was waiting to happen,” the deputy said.
Andrews then turned to Revilla and asked for an executive session where he and other CAAP officials would “bring up the causes or reasons behind it all.”
Before reporters were asked to leave, Andrews said the ill-fated Piper Seneca was manufactured in 1972.
Asked by Revilla whether Piper Seneca planes have a “time change function,” Andrews said the engine for example, “has to be changed every 500 hours depending on the manufacturer … and inspections [conducted] every 25-, 50- and 100-hours use.”
“All of these are supposed to be done,” Andrews said without confirming whether the Piper Seneca was indeed subjected to such maintenance procedures.
Andrews added that during emergency situations when a Piper Seneca loses one engine, the one still functioning can still fly the plane between 3,700 to 3,800 feet at 80 miles per hour.
Revilla agreed to an ambush interview prior to the executive session.
“The important thing was that there was no foul play. Secretary Robredo was also my friend and people need to know about this,” he told reporters.
The senator’s stressing on the “no foul play” statement apparently stems from speculations aired right after the crash that Robredo’s flight may have been sabotaged.
One unconfirmed report alleged that the aviation fuel poured into the Piper Seneca may have been diluted with water, causing the engine to malfunction.
There were also those who took it against Abrazado the fact that he survived.
Upon stepping out of the executive session, Andrews told waiting reporters that the CAAP intends to pursue on the engine failure angle.
Still, the CAAP panel is also looking into “mitigating factors” in efforts to determine the cause of the crash.
Andrews said an examination of the flight manifest also showed Chand as a passenger. This meant that only Bahinting was flying the Piper Seneca at that time.