Cebu Pacific plane finally pulled out of Davao airport runway

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DAVAO CITY, Philippines – The Cebu Pacific plane that missed the runway of the Davao City international airport on Sunday and landed on mud and grass at the side, was finally pulled out of the runway area at 7 p.m., this correspondent of the Inquirer Mindanao Bureau observed at the site on Tuesday.

OFF RUNWAY This Airbus A-320 of Cebu Pacific Air landed on a grassy area off the runway of Davao International Airport in Davao City. All 165 passengers, including two pilots and four flight attendants, were evacuated safely. BING GONZALES/INQUIRER MINDANAO

The damaged airplane was towed to an open space near the tarmac of the Francisco Bangoy International Airport for investigation by aviation authorities.  The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines gave the Cebu Pacific only until Tuesday to tow away the crippled airplane so that airport operations could return to normal.

At 3 p.m. on Tuesday, a group of workers and technicians was seen pulling the plane out of the runway’s grassy side. Using a crane, the plane’s nose was lifted and mounted onto a truck. Another group tied cable wires on the rear landing gear, which will be towed by three tractors. The plan: pull the plane by its tail.

On the first attempt, the plane moved for two meters and its right rear wheels got stuck on mud. On the second attempt, the cables snapped.

As of 4:20 p.m., the plane’s left rear wheels had reached the runway, with workers racing to meet the extended deadline set by the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) and avoid heavy downpour that had been forecast by the weather bureau.

At 4:30 p.m., the airplane was pulled out from the mud and grass and it was easier for workers to pull the entire airplane out of the runway.

It would take three more hours to finally bring the plane out of the runway.

The Cebu Pacific’s troubles will not fade with the towing away of its airplane from the grassy side of the international airport runway here.

The city government has threatened to file a complaint against the airport management before the CAAP.

Aside from this, the city government said it would provide legal assistance to passengers interested in filing complaints against the Cebu Pacific for the way the airline company mishandled the crisis.

Some of the passengers frightened by the wayward landing of the plane and inconvenienced by the lack of customer service by the airlines afterwards are scheduled to meet Tuesday night.

Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio vowed to tap the city government’s lawyers to help passengers determined to sue Cebu Pacific and airport authorities.

“Those aboard the Cebu Pacific flight 5J-971 who want to file complaints, you may text or call 09083819130, or visit www.davaocity.gov.ph, open www.facebook.com/davaocitygov or ask the Help Desk at the City Mayor’s Office,” Duterte-Carpio said.

Irked by how long it has been taking airport authorities to remove the plane on the runway, Duterte-Carpio earlier said: “If that plane is still on the runway at 3 p.m., I’m going to call PAL (the Philippine Airlines) to wreck that plane, or gather all junk operators in Davao city or the Akyat Bahay gangs to remove it piece by piece.”

“The way I listen to him,” she said, referring to Frederick San Felix, CAAP airport manager, “It’s like the Cebu Pacific owns the entire airport.”

“They are trying to save the plane, an inert object, compared to the lives of people and the economic losses and inconveniences it caused Davao City,” she said.

“We are being tied down, held hostage by CAAP, and CAAP is giving all the leeway to Cebu Pacific,” the mayor added.

A passenger, Marlon Bo, a former member of the Philippine Navy and an expert in crisis management, made the same observation in a separate interview.

Reacting to the statement by the Cebu Pacific saying they were doing everything to take care of the passengers, Bo said, “I beg to disagree, the way I see it, they were more concerned about what happened to the plane than the passengers.”

Bo vowed to reveal how Cebu Pacific crew mishandled the crisis.

“It is very rare for people to survive an aircraft accident like this, I’m going to talk about it because I was the one who was there, I saw it myself, and I survived,” said Bo, who said he was filing a case against the airline company.

“It’s not about the money but the safety of more passengers in the future,” he added.

Bo said that after the front emergency exit was opened and five passengers were able to get out, the pilot himself and his first officer got off the plane and left the panicking passengers behind.

“It’s an abandonment of responsibility,” he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

“They were saying it was a mechanical error but for me, it was crash landing because they did not hit the tarmac,” he said.

“The left side of the engine hit the pavement, that’s why it burst into flames. It happened when it was raining so hard, that’s why the flame was contained, di nagkaroon ng explosion (there was no explosion). Alam ng kapitan yan, na any minute pwedeng sumabog ang eroplano, that’s why, nagmadali siyang bumaba,” Bo said.

An expert in crisis situation in shipping, Bo remembered asking if there were soldiers, police, doctors and nurses because they’re trained to handle crisis, but no one volunteered, “so I asked the two stewards to stay to calm the panicking passengers.”

Businessman John Gaisano, who was also a passenger of the ill-fated plane, said the aircraft carrier should learn from its mistake.

“I supposed they should learn from their mistake, I don’t think it’s their first,” Gaisano told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by phone.

Gaisano, who was seated near the exit, said he was looking out of the two windows and saw smoke.  He said he thought there was something wrong with his eyes. Another passenger near him complained that the floor of the plane felt hot. But the smoke thinned out.

“Had the smoke thickened, I would have opened the rear exit of the plane but it thinned out,” he said.

“I realized that the airport lacked life-saving facilities: first, there was only one fire truck; then, it took them so long before we were brought to airport, so, there was lack of emergency transport; and third, there was no light,” Gaisano said.

Gaisano said he was surprised to learn that airport authorities turned away the Central 911 when the latter responded to the emergency. “That’s ridiculous,” he said. “When I learned about it, I was surprised because if I’m the airport supervisor and the airport lacks facilities, the first response should be to allow people to help.”

Duterte-Carpio said that airport authorities turned down Central 911 three times, until a Cebu Pacific staff, surrounded by many passengers she could no longer handle, decided to call 911. “It was only then that they let them in,” the mayor said.

Davao Oriental vice governor Joel Mayo Almario, who was among the plane’s passengers, said he would, from now on, “as much as possible avoid taking a Cebu Pacific flight.”

“It depends on the route. Only Cebu Pacific has Davao-Cebu flights. Cebu Pacific also has flexible Davao-Manila flights,” Almario said.

“They have to shape up. Just because it’s a budget airline doesn’t mean we get budget service,” he said.

“If they took care of us immediately after the accident, the passengers would have been appeased,” he added.

Almario said his mother, Davao Oriental Rep. Thelma Almario, would most likely support the move of Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles to conduct a congressional inquiry on the accident and the actions of the Cebu Pacific after.

For Audrey Legazpi and her friends, their perfect vacation ended after they found out that their flight going back to Manila had been diverted from Davao City to General Santos City.

“Our vacation was very exciting most especially our trip to Samal Island. But it was spoiled by this incident and by the poor response of the airline company,” Legazpi said.

After checking in, Legazpi’s group waited in line outside the departure area as personnel of the Cebu Pacific guided the public utility buses and vans in picking up the passengers for a shuttle ride to General Santos City.

But it took at least three hours to reach the airport in General Santos.

Legazpi complained that the airline failed to address the needs of passengers who were stranded in Davao. Their bus left around lunch time but no food was distributed aside from a small bottle of mineral water per passenger.

In General Santos City, defective X-ray machines at the General Santos City Airport exacerbated the misery of thousands of passengers from Davao City whose flights were diverted here due to the mishap involving a Cebu Pacific Flight 5J 971.

The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) here told reporters that on Monday, a total of around 5,000 passengers trooped to the Gensan airport, about 184 kilometers away from Davao City, to catch their flights.

“We are expecting almost the same number of passengers today. We appeal to passengers to stretch their patience. We are doing manual checking of all baggages as our x-ray machines are not yet operational,” Dante Fernandez, officer in charge of CAAP here, explained.

Fernandez explained that bidding for the purchase of new x-ray machines intended for Gensan airport had already been made but he could not yet say exactly when the equipment would arrive.

The General Santos airport has an average six flights a day. Cebu Pacific added 16 more round trip flights here on the day all inbound and outbound flights in Davao airport were canceled.

Philippine Airlines, on the other hand, dispatched a bigger aircraft during its 4 p.m. flight to accommodate more passengers.

Fernandez added that on Monday passengers surged from 9 a.m. up to 10 p.m.

The last flight bound for Manila left around 12:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Chaos and long queue of passengers could be seen right from the main entrance, in the designated check-in area including in the pre-departure and arrival lounges.

Five passengers were reported to have collapsed in a jampacked pre-departure area on Tuesday due to heat and fatigue. They were immediately attended to by concerned airlines personnel.

Many arriving passengers also complained against some porters who demanded excessive fees.

Luggage cart is not provided by CAAP at the Gensan airport and the arriving passengers carrying heavy luggage are compelled to hire the services of CAAP-accredited porters. With reports from Germelina Lacorte and Aquiles Z. Zonio

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