Cebu Pacific apologizes for runway mishap in Davao
DAVAO CITY—Cebu Pacific on Monday apologized for Flight 5J-971’s skidding off the runway at Davao International Airport Sunday night and offered to transport passengers from Davao to General Santos at no extra charge.
The carrier also waived rebooking fees and mounted 16 additional flights to “reaccommodate” passengers.
“Cebu Pacific is doing its best to assist all passengers, and facilitate the removal of the runway obstruction,” the airline said in a statement, referring to its Airbus A-320 that remained blocking the runway Monday.
Despite the apology offered to its passengers for their harrowing experience on Sunday night, however, Cebu Pacific Air, the country’s biggest budget airline, is threatened by a boycott by longtime customers who felt they were neglected during the emergency.
Angered by the accident, Ateneo de Davao University (Addu) is leading the boycott as a protest against what its president, Jesuit priest Joel Tabora, called the “insensitivity” and “ineptness” of Cebu Pacific’s crew.
The management of the Davao airport is also facing an investigation, with the Davao City government itself asking the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) to “make heads roll” for the airport’s alleged concealment of information from the city government and refusal of an offer of help.
“We will submit a complaint to put on record their nonexistent emergency plan,” Mayor Sara Duterte said Monday.
In a letter sent to the airline on Monday, Tabora said the university had been “a loyal customer of Cebu Pacific,” but was irked at the carrier’s performance during the emergency.
Cebu Pacific Flight 5J-971 had just touched down on the runway at the Davao International Airport at 7:10 p.m. Sunday when it veered off the centerline and plunged nose first into a ditch.
None of the 165 passengers on the plane, an Airbus A-320, was hurt, but many of them complained that despite the fright and shock they suffered, the crew offered them no help.
“Last night, you proved that you do not deserve our patronage,” Tabora said in his letter.
“I am ordering that Addu no longer purchase tickets from Cebu Pacific as a protest against the insensitivity and ineptness [of your personnel, who ignored and neglected the passengers] in an hour of emergency,” he said.
“I am incensed not because there was a mechanical failure last night but because of Cebu Pacific’s manifest human failure,” he said.
“Where was your concern for the passengers? Your personnel lacked training for an emergency situation. They froze. They did not know what to do. They must be able to put the welfare of the passengers before their own. And they must be trained to do so,” he said.
Tabora said a company that endangered lives deserved a boycott.
“When you put such people [in charge of] the care of people, you endanger lives. Under these circumstances, we will generally recommend a boycott of Cebu Pacific. You do not deserve customers,” he said.
Passenger Jun Narciso, who was traveling with his family, said the plane shook as it touched down on the runway.
“The landing was very sudden and the pilot immediately put on the brakes. The plane’s engine was also immediately turned off,” Narciso said.
“We thought we were all going to die,” said passenger Percival Jacones, 33, a seafarer returning to this city for a vacation.
“Everyone panicked. Women and kids were screaming,” Jacones said.
“We were terrified. We thought the plane would explode,” he said.
Jacones said the pilots and the crew seemed to have been stunned by what had just happened that they failed to attend immediately to the passengers.
“They (cabin crew) apparently lacked crisis management training because they performed so poorly during the emergency. A few of us passengers were the ones who tried to calm down the rest of the passengers,” he said.
Jacones said it was only 15 minutes later that the pilot came out of the cockpit to speak to the shaken passengers.
“He told us that it was the heavy rain and that they lost sight of the runway lights,” he said.
Narciso also said it was 15 minutes after the incident before the pilot came out to speak to the passengers.
“He explained that the problem was caused by the plane’s wiper,” he said.
Menard Dacono, 26, a business development manager working in Singapore, said it took a while for the passengers to be evacuated.
“When the passengers reached the terminal, there was no one there from Cebu Pacific to face them,” Dacono said.
“No one from the airline offered an explanation,” he said.
“We were even barred from taking photos of the aircraft,” Dacono said.
Duterte said the airport management and the airline did not cooperate with the city’s Emergency 911 when the service responded to the incident.
She said 911 sent an ambulance after an airport security guard called for help.
Duterte quoted 911 chief Emmanuel Jaldon as reporting to her that the emergency team found that the airline kept the passengers in a secluded area in the airport and tried to treat them there.
Jaldon’s report said about 20 passengers were treated for hypertension due to shock, contrary to the airline’s report that no one was hurt, Duterte said.
The mayor complained that it was taking too long to remove the airplane from the runway.
The airplane blocked the runway all night Sunday and all day Monday, and the airport was shut down to traffic.
Frederick San Felix, CAAP airport area manager, told reporters on Monday that the plane could not be removed from the runway until after aircraft accident investigators from Manila had examined the site to determine what caused the A-320 to skid off the centerline.
“Until the aircraft investigation team is finished, we cannot just clear the runway for use by commercial flights,” San Felix said.
It would take some time before the cause of the accident could be determined, he said.
“We also need to retrieve the black box, which will be evidence. We want to know if there was a declaration of an emergency before the pilot was given the clearance to land,” he said.
He said flights at the airport would resume at 8 p.m. on Monday after the airplane had been removed from the runway.
The accident forced the cancellation of all flights to Davao, starting 9 p.m. on Sunday. There were no flights into or out of Davao all day Monday.
Cebu Pacific canceled 20 flights. Philippine Airlines (PAL) and its budget unit PAL Express canceled 11 flights.
Both PAL and Cebu Pacific, however, offered Manila-bound passengers flights out of General Santos City, two hours away from here by land.
Possible human error
Investigators were looking at possible human error as the cause of the accident.
CAAP Deputy Director General John Andrews told a news conference on Monday that the Cebu Pacific plane overshot the runway probably because the pilot failed to correct the aircraft’s heading while landing against a crosswind.
A crosswind blows in any direction not parallel to the course of an airplane.
A similar error caused a Cebu Pacific plane to overshoot the runway at the airport in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan province, in 2011, Andrews said.
The investigation of that incident is still going on, he added.
Andrews said the pilot had been cleared to land after confirming he had the runway in sight.
He said reports that the runway lights went out just as the plane was about to land were not true.
A blackout might have occurred, but this happened after the incident, he said.
The pilot, Capt. Antonio Roel Oropesa, and the first officer, Edwin Perello, were grounded pending investigation.—With reports from Dennis Jay Santos and Germelina Lacorte, Inquirer Mindanao; and Tarra Quismundo and Miguel R. Camus in Manila
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