Plane in papal party skids off Tacloban runway
MANILA, Philippines—A chartered plane carrying Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa and three other Malacañang officials and staff members tasked to oversee the preparations for the visit of Pope Francis veered off the runway at the Daniel Romualdez Airport in Tacloban City on Saturday.
Passengers and witnesses who saw the incident recalled hearing at least one explosion, presumably from the tires, before the aircraft skidded off the runway and onto the muddy, grassy embankment.
A passenger on the plane, who asked not to be identified for lack of clearance to speak on the matter, said they heard a loud bang and “before I knew it, we were already off the runway.”
The passenger said the impact caused his head to bump into the interior wall, but he was otherwise fine. “The secretaries were not hurt,” the passenger added.
“It was pretty calm. They were not panicking or anything,” he said.
Ramon Ang, president and CEO of San Miguel Corp. which owns the aircraft, said the plane “encountered a strong crosswind which started to push it off the runway.”
“The pilots reacted quickly and immediately aborted takeoff. The pilots’ quick action saved the lives of all on board,” Ang said.
Aside from Ochoa, also on the 19-seater Bombadier Global Express were Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., Undersecretary Emmanuel Bautista, his aide, a Lt. Rafael, Undersecretary Felizardo Serapio Jr., Science Secretary Mario Montejo, lawyer Carlos Serapio, Katherine Andraneda, Col. Oliver Veslino, Major Darwin Sacramed, Chino Romero, Joseph Juico, Gamaliel Cordoba and Lt. Manny Bautista.
Undersecretary Bautista is the executive director of the justice, security and defense cluster of the Cabinet, while Serapio heads the government’s antiterrorism task force.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the officials were in Tacloban to ensure that the activities of Pope Francis in that city and Palo town would go as planned.
Lacierda said that while everyone on the plane was safe, “some crew members” were brought to the Remedios T. Romuldez Medical Center “for further medical examination.”
“The families of those on board have also been assured that their loved ones are safe,” he said.
In a text message to the Inquirer, Bautista said he was “OK.”
Bautista, the former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff, has been tasked by President Aquino to be the point man for the security preparations.
A source in Ochoa’s office told the Inquirer that those on the plane were “safe but shaken.”
The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) said in its report that the Bombardier carrying 16 persons was hit by a strong crosswind while taxiing for takeoff at Tacloban airport just after 1 p.m.
“The CAAP confirms reports that a Philippine registered Bombardier GL5T type aircraft with 19 seating capacity and with tail number RP-C9363 operated by Challenger Aero swerved upon takeoff and rolled due to a crosswind,” the CAAP report said.
The plane slid up to 50 meters onto the grassy portion of the runway.
CAAP ground personnel who immediately responded to the accident said that all the passengers were safe.
The aviation body said it was investigating the incident.
Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez said it was not yet known if the accident was caused by foul weather, human error or plane malfunction.
Focus on rescue
“It’s hard to speculate. But the airplane of the Pope and the other officials were able to take off successfully. The weather may not have been the best but two other aircraft were able to take off successfully,” he said.
The police regional director, Chief Supt. Asher Dolina, said as much, adding that the focus was on the rescue of all the passengers and crew.
“We first took care of the rescue of all the VIPs. All our rescue units and ambulances are there now. All details are still sketchy,” he told reporters.
The plane carrying the presidential aides tried to take off less than 30 minutes after the Pope’s plane took off, according to an Agence France-Presse reporter at the airport.
Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said the government was investigating the accident.
“We are happy to know that everyone on board the plane was… generally safe,” Roxas said in a statement.
“I spoke to… Ochoa (over the phone). He said he… and everybody were OK,” he added. With a report from Dax Lucas; AFP
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